COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Gov. Mike DeWine launched an investigation Tuesday into the high school football program at Bishop Sycamore, the latest turn in a strange saga that began Sunday when its legitimacy was called into question during and after a blowout loss on ESPN.
In a statement, DeWine said the state Department of Education would investigate Bishop Sycamore to ensure legal compliance:
“Like many Ohioans, I am concerned by the recent reports and questions raised about Bishop Sycamore,” DeWine said. “While this weekend’s football game brought concerns about the health and safety of players, it also raised red flags about the school’s operations. Schools like Bishop Sycamore have an obligation under Ohio law to meet certain minimum standards.
“Whether Bishop Sycamore meets these standards is not clear. I have asked the Ohio Department of Education to conduct an investigation into Bishop Sycamore to ensure compliance with Ohio law and to ensure the school is providing the educational opportunities Ohio students deserve.”
The move came hours after USA Today reported that coach Roy Johnson had been fired by Andre Peterson, Bishop Sycamore’s founder, director and offensive and defensive line coach. And later that afternoon, two Bishop Sycamore opponents — Johnson Central in Paintsville, Kentucky, and Duncanville, Texas — announced they were canceling their games.
Johnson’s last game was a 58-0 loss to IMG Academy of Bradenton, Florida, in Canton, Ohio.
Multiple media outlets have been exploring how Bishop Sycamore came to be on ESPN, and the network expressed regret over airing the game but placed the blame with a scheduling agency.
We regret that this happened and have discussed it with Paragon, which secured the matchup and handles the majority of our high school event scheduling. They have ensured us that they will take steps to prevent this kind of situation from happening moving forward.ESPN
IMG Academy ranks as one of the top football programs in the country, No. 2 in the country according to MaxPreps, so a blowout win is not unheard of for the talented Florida-based team.
But when the highly touted matchup on ESPN’s main channel turned into a rout, announcers began to question whether Bishop Sycamore had any place playing in the game.
“Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on their roster, and to be frank, a lot of that, we could not verify,” commentator Anish Shroff said. “They did not show up in our database, they did not show up in the databases of other recruiting services. So, OK, that’s what you’re telling us, fine, that’s how we take it in. From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a fair fight, and there’s got to be a point where you’re worried about health and safety.”
ESPN claims Bishop Sycamore also widely exaggerated the number of highly recruited players it claimed to have when the game was scheduled by Paragon.
Another concern was Bishop Sycamore playing Friday night against Sto-Rox High School in suburban Pittsburgh, a 19-7 loss. Johnson took to Twitter Spaces on Monday, saying about 15 players played in both games, adding most played only small portions.
Bishop Sycamore is not recognized by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and the Department of Education listed no charter school with its name.
The OHSAA released a statement about Bishop Sycamore’s status:
“Bishop Sycamore is not an OHSAA member school, so we don’t know much about that group. The current leadership of that team has not reached out to the OHSAA, but they did a few years ago when they founded COF Academy (Christians of Faith). Previously, the Ohio Department of Education investigated and then shut down COF Academy, which originally claimed ties to a church here in Columbus, but then the church severed any ties it had with the group/team.
“OHSAA member schools are permitted to play whoever they want to in the regular season. In football, they just need to play at least five games that result in computer points. A game against Bishop Sycamore would not count for any computer points.”