It is quite astonishing the kinds of scams that are successfully pulled off, even for a short time. Take this scam about an entirely fake faith-based high school named Bishop Sycamore that was created seemingly just to have a football team. That scam is now the subject of a new documentary titled BS High.
In August 2021, two high school football teams met in the Pro Football Hall of Fame stadium in Canton, Ohio, for a much-hyped matchup shown live on ESPN. When it quickly became a 58-0 blowout, suspicion descended most heavily on the losing side – an outfit called Bishop Sycamore purporting to be a faith-based school that actually turned out to be fake.
[Coach Roy] Johnson starts out wanting viewers to believe in his pure version of Bishop Sycamore, which he launched under a different name with the idea of creating a football institute for high school prospects who had fallen through the cracks.
In Johnson’s case, he suckered a church into letting him run a school in its name and convincing parishioners to tap into their life insurance policies to fund it. He made the football program his sole focus. He homed in on Black prospects from underprivileged backgrounds who thrilled at the idea of playing for an all-Black coaching staff and hired a video team to gin up PR hype. Within three years, Bishop Sycamore were kicking off against IMG Academy on ESPN. Meanwhile, Ben Ferree, a former investigator for Ohio’s youth athletics board, is to this scandal what Harry Markopolos is to the Madoff ponzi scheme – the first guy to sniff out the con and the loudest to complain about it. But of course the worst didn’t come out until after Bishop Sycamore were embarrassed on national television.
Among other things: Bishop Sycamore did not have a brick-and-mortar location or settle their debts. Players wanted for medical care and food and resorted to stealing for their supper. Some players had active arrest warrants that affected the team’s travel. (Johnson himself was wanted on fraud charges and facing a lawsuit for an unpaid $110,000 hotel bill.) Other players were well past the age to be considered high school eligible.
In one of many damning sequences, the film makes the case that Johnson used his players’ social security numbers to take out PPP loans and stuck them with the obligation without their knowledge.
The documentary gets high marks.
As I’ve said many times before, the risk of brain injury is sufficiently high that schools and colleges should not be fielding football teams at all. Add to that the fact that only a small fraction of high school athletes get college scholarships because of their athletic ability and an even tinier fraction go on to play professional sports and make a living at it. But football is glorified so relentlessly in the US, that many young people and their parents are willing to throw the dice and gamble on it, even to the extent of failing to do the minimum diligence that would have exposed scams like this. In this case the fact that the high school was supposedly ‘faith based’ and had the name of a church may have contributed to the allaying of suspicions.