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Halftime Report | The Ultimate Finesse: Bishop Sycamore and ESPN

A week and a half after the game, the aftershocks remain. The Twitter jokes are still flying, and more details are surfacing regarding what many have dubbed the biggest story in sports right now. 

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Halftime Report” is REVOLT’s bi-weekly sports column. Here, fans of games will find all of the unfiltered sports news that they can’t get anywhere else. From professional sports to college sports, and from game recaps to athletes’ latest moves and updates, “Halftime Report” is the place for sports commentary that you need.

There’s no doubt that, by now, you’ve heard of Bishop Sycamore. The Columbus, Ohio- based Centurions duped ESPN into giving them a nationally televised matchup against IMG Academy. Moments into their 58-0 blowout loss, broadcasters realized that something just was not right. Booked through Paragon Marketing, who normally partners with ESPN for high school events, the “team” out of Ohio found itself down 23-0 just in the first quarter alone. The game was the finale of ESPN High School Kickoff series and the players were able to slip into the marquee game due to the fact that Paragon could not find a school that wanted to play IMG.

As a result, the task was outsourced to Joe Maimon. After 200 rejections, he found that Bishop Sycamore was the only team willing to line up against the top-ranked Ascenders. The Kickoff consists of elite high school programs with highly touted recruits and Division I signees. The Centurions’ inability to check off any of those requirements became apparent quickly and what has followed has been a multitude of investigation and ridicule.

A week and a half after the game, the aftershocks remain. The Twitter jokes are still flying, and more details are surfacing regarding what many have dubbed the biggest story in sports right now. Let’s start with the roster. It’s like something straight out of a movie. In a press release back in July, Bishop Sycamore claimed that “several players on both sides of the ball have multiple Division 1 offers including QB Trillian Harris and OL Justin Daniel.” Instead, the team that took the field that infamous night included postgraduate players, some as old as 19 and 20 years old. Additionally, some even had junior college experience.

Despite the age advantage, it was clear that Bishop Sycamore did not belong on the same field as the Ascenders. The game wasn’t even over yet when the ESPN broadcasting team began to doubt their legitimacy and cited concerns over the health and safety of the players as the drubbing commenced. It was at this time that Anish Shroff and Tom Luginbill revealed that the network had not been able to verify claims that the roster included Division I recruits and signees. In fact, there isn’t any mention of Bishop Sycamore nor its players in any recruiting databases.

That brings up another question: How is the “school” even getting these players? Bishop Sycamore isn’t even listed as a school in the Ohio Department of Education for the 2021-2022 school year. The last academic year, it was listed as a “non-chartered, non-tax supported school.” There is no affiliation with the Ohio High School Athletic Association and the address provided to recruits traces back to the library of Franklin University where they had rented a room. Even under those circumstances, they were able to field a roster. Former players have spoken out in the aftermath and their accounts make the story even weirder — if that’s even possible at this point. The father of former player Judah Holtzclaw gave an account of his family’s experience in an interview with Awful Announcing. According to Ray Holtzclaw, a series of unfortunate events led to his son not competing with the program for 2021 Spring football as originally planned.

“They assured me everything would be taken care of, and then we were supposed to start playing football for them in the spring. They had a schedule they put out. About two, maybe three weeks before the game was scheduled to play, I said, ‘Where is the rest of the team and where are the uniforms? Where’s all the stuff?’”

Ray held his son out of Spring ball due to the lack of organization and focused on summer recruiting only to find more pitfalls. After attending a camp in Georgia, he was hit with a $2,500 hotel bill after the program failed to pay for any of the team’s 15 rooms. A similar situation occurred after the “scandal” game in Canton, Ohio. After staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites, the team wrote two bad checks totaling $3,596 for 25 rooms. There was another additional $750 billed due to room damages. This has prompted the Canton Police Department to open an investigation into the school for forgery. Although all of this has elicited whispers of “what the hell?” as we find out more, fraud is not something new when it comes to the fictitious program.

Details involving former head coach Leroy Johnson have made the saga movie script worthy. I mean, you can’t make this type of stuff up and, as a side note, I’m sure we’ll be hit with screen adaptations and documentaries regarding this whole situation. Forget the fact that Johnson had an outstanding bench warrant for fraud. He also failed to appear in court for a domestic violence case. Yet here he was on primetime TV on one of — if not the — biggest sports channel in the country.

Before the Football Finesse, the “school” was originally founded as Christians of Faith Academy. It retooled as Bishop Sycamore after a federal investigation was launched into the academy’s use of counterfeit money, debit and credit card fraud, and computer fraud among other things. It was during the days of COF that former player Aaron Boyd said that he and other players lived in a hotel, never attended any classes, and had to steal food to survive after being sold on the school as “the IMG of the Midwest.” He told Complex that they stayed in a Delaware, Ohio hotel for five months and the school never paid the bill.

“They sent me books with, like, s--- on how the school was supposed to look,” Boyd revealed. “Blueprints and everything. They told us we was gonna be on Netflix; they recruited us telling us we were gonna be on a show. They told us we’re gonna be the IMG of the Midwest. They lied to me and my mama.”

For the final month and a half, Boyd said that he and about 34 other players lived in houses where they slept on the floor. Also, due to the non-existent classes, he had to repeat his junior year. “We didn’t go to school. We never went to school,” he told the outlet. “I can’t lie, they tried once. They took us to a community library. One day. It was already October, the season was about to be over. It was like at this point, ‘Well, s---, I’m not going to school. Y’all haven’t put me through school this whole time.’”

Boyd’s revelations come as no surprise as new head coach Tyren Jackson has admitted in the last 48 hours what we already knew. ”We are not a school. That’s not what Bishop Sycamore is, and I think that’s what the biggest misconception about us was, and that was our fault. Because that was a mistake on paperwork,” Jackson told NBC Columbus on Monday (Sept. 6). He went on to disclose that Bishop Sycamore does not offer a curriculum. What a declaration to make right before insisting that he doesn’t know the details of said paperwork that went into his team’s national dismantling on ESPN. He claimed not to know much about the filing with the Ohio Department of Education nor the shady physical address.

So if Bishop Sycamore isn’t a school, what is it exactly? It’s giving “scam” as the entire short existence of what we will refer to as an institution has been filled with fraud, deception and scheduling shenanigans. IMG wasn’t the first opponent that was scheduled against the Centurions. They took advantage of COVID-19 cancellations to schedule themselves against entirely overmatched opponents and for what reason? The obvious answer is attention and exposure — further evidenced by Jackson’s declaration that the next team to play them will “make national news.” The question at this point should be whether or not the program will even have a next game. Jackson also disclosed that there are no plans to file paperwork as a school this academic school year. While the Twitter and Instagram jokes and memes flourish, there are serious implications that will continue to trickle down as the story gets more stranger — especially for Leroy Johnson and coach Jay Richardson who both face criminal charges. Stay tuned. This is sure to be coming to a Netflix near you.

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