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Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Loophole That Could Cause The Next Bishop Sycamore

  • Laws to regulate religious-affiliated schools need to be changed to prevent another BS High, but Ohio has taken no action.
  • “They knew. There’s no guessing here about IMG Academy and their culpability here,” OHSAA whistleblower Ben Ferree told FOS.
Legal loopholes allow Bishop Sycamore coach Roy Johnson to concoct his scheme again.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Discovery

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine released a report in December 2021 on the state’s investigation into Bishop Sycamore, the fake high school football team that scammed its way onto ESPN for a nationally televised 58-0 loss against powerhouse IMG Academy on August 29, 2021.

DeWine’s investigation concluded with seven recommendations focused on revising laws to regulate non-chartered, non-tax supported schools like Bishop Sycamore, whose bankrupt coach Roy Johnson claimed affiliation with a church. HBO’s “BS High” debuts Wednesday, and director Martin Desmond Roe told Front Office Sports this scandal is just as likely to occur today.

“They have no legal ability to regulate it. Roy [Johnson] knows this and says in the film that he’s going to use the publicity of this film to come back,” Roe said. “There is a loophole here that allows these teams and these clubs to pretend that they’re schools so that they can play these big, powerful teams, so that they can lose and they can make the people that run them money. And unless the laws change, that cannot be stopped.”

Roe and co-director Travon Free interviewed Johnson for about 40 hours to produce their film on Bishop Sycamore, the Ohio school that Johnson originally created in 2018 under the name Christians of Faith Academy. “BS High” also features interviews with numerous Bishop Sycamore football players, many of whom were aged 20 and older and believed Johnson’s program could lead to college scholarships.

Another key figure in the film, Ben Ferree, a former Assistant Director of Officiating and Sport Management at the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA), explained to FOS: “OHSAA is one of the few associations that lets their members play anybody. You can play the Cleveland Browns if you wanted to. Most other associations have a rule saying you can only play members of other state associations. If the OHSAA had that rule it would stop this from happening because Bishop Sycamore would not be allowed to play anyone else. And the OHSAA has not updated that rule.”

Bishop Sycamore (and its predecessor COF Academy) were not members of OHSAA, letting Johnson further circumvent potential regulation. OHSAA has more than 800 member schools and some have long standing scheduling relationships with non-members that don’t want to see the rules changed just because of scammers like Roy Johnson, Ferree says.  


Ferree has co-authored a book about the scandal called “Friday Night Lies” that comes out September 1. His book details the number of schools that played Bishop Sycamore despite allegedly knowing it was a fraudulent school, including Ohio football powerhouses Massillon Washington and Archbishop Hoban. 

“There were certainly some schools that scheduled [Bishop Sycamore] because they were duped, but there were more that knew and played them anyways because having a home game [and] getting their football revenue from their normal Friday night was more important than making sure these young adults’ lives weren’t ruined,” added Ferree, who is now a Civil Rights Investigator at Ohio State University. 

UFC’s parent company Endeavor sold Florida-based IMG Academy for $1.25 billion in April to Hong Kong-based private equity group BPEA EQT.

IMG Academy’s blowout win at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton worried ESPN’s announcers about the safety of Bishop Sycamore’s players — even though it wasn’t the first time the schools met. In 2020, IMG hosted Bishop Sycamore in Florida and beat them 58-6. IMG was also scheduled to play Johnson’s COF Academy in 2018 but the game was canceled — meaning IMG played or was scheduled to play COF Academy/Bishop Sycamore in three of its four years of existence. 

“They knew. There’s no guessing here about IMG Academy and their culpability here,” Ferree said. “They knew 100% what they were signing up for, but IMG Academy has a hard time finding opponents. Bishop Sycamore were the only ones in Ohio willing to play IMG. And IMG said, OK, so we can not have a game or we can help a con man ruin lives and continue to make money. We’ll help a con man continue to ruin lives so we can continue making money.” 

IMG Academy sends about 30,000 high school athletes per year to college rosters, including three first-round picks in this year’s NBA Draft. Bishop Sycamore’s quarterback Trillian Harris received a scholarship to Grambling State but had his admission revoked after the college learned of his affiliation with the fake high school investigated by DeWine.

“The Ohio Department of Education said here are seven changes to state law that should be made that would prevent this sort of thing from happening again, and give us oversight to deal with it if it does,” said Ferree. “Not a single one of those proposals has actually been proposed by a legislature. They don’t care. In fact, they’ve done the opposite. They’ve actually taken away some of the ODE’s oversight and ability. 

“So not only has nothing changed, Ohio’s actually made it easier for this to happen again.”

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