An astonishing high school football scam

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.


  1. billseymour says

    Yet more evidence (as if we needed any more) that a claim of being “faith based” is unrelated to morality.

  2. SailorStar says

    The Tuohy family stumbled across a teenager with foooootbaaaaaw ability and exploited him all in the name of the sport. Do you think for one second if that young man had the potential to cure cancer or bring about world peace, that the Tuohy family would have bothered? Of course they wouldn’t. There’s a shocking percentage of Americans who couldn’t care less about “no book larnin’,” they just want the fooootbawwwww.

    Additional point: there’s also a shocking number of churches who purport to also be schools that are in no way about education. In the stupider states, they’re funded with taxpayer dollars. Anecdota: one of my neighbors sent their daughter to one such school. To quote the proud mama, “She can’t read or write, but she knows her Bible!”

  3. billseymour says

    “… but she knows her Bible!”

    Does she?  Or does she just know the bits that make it seem like her parents’ god agrees with them?

  4. says

    The Bible: The most popular book in the world that hardly anyone has actually read.

    People have been told over and over that it’s “the good book”, so they will apply appropriate lip service for virtue signaling. Many years ago, when I started reading it, I would just shake my head at the insane things written there. It was then that I realized that most people don’t really read it. At best, they listen to someone else tell them bits about it. But that means that there’s a pathway for oodles of fun! For example, sometimes I will ask if people are familiar with the story of Lot. They usually reply with something about a wicked city and his wife being turned into a pillar of salt. Then I tell them about how a group of men came to Lot’s house and demanded to have sex with his guests (two angels). Lot refuses and offers up his daughter to the strangers so they can have sex with her, instead. Nice guy, eh? Oh, and the bit about one of the angles striking one of the men blind so that he couldn’t see the door to force his way in -- priceless!

  5. Allison says

    jimf @#4,

    There’s lots of cool stuff in there, especially in Genesis. Read about Jacob and how he got his wealth (Genesis chapts 30 & 31.) Or where his sons get the Shechemites to circumcise themselves, and then murdered them all “while they were still in pain.”

    Or King David and Bathsheba? Or Tamar and Amnon?

    The old testament is fun to read (but skip the laws and the prophets, they’re boring.)

  6. SailorStar says

    Bill, I have no idea whether the child knows the Bible or not. Her parents think she does, and clearly that’s enough for them.

    Likewise in illiteracy are all the “student” athletes in college who have been busted in expose after expose, year after year after year. Colleges and universities admit them even though they’re in no way qualified for academia, they give them special dorms and special food and special “sports track” classes and special perks like massages and personal trainers that the tuition-paying students couldn’t even dream of, and then pay the coaches, assistant coaches, deputy assistant coaches, personal trainers, etc. big bucks to run a free farm team for professional sports.

  7. says

    @7, Absolutely! A few years ago I looked at our nearest major D1 school, Syracuse University. At the time, the highest paid person on campus was the basketball coach. Second was the football coach. Third was the president of the university, and fourth was the athletic director. There is an old saying, “Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value”. So tell me again why I should consider this school to be primarily an institute of higher learning?

    At least baseball is honest enough to have a farm team/minors system. Not so for football and basketball who offload the development cost to the higher education system.

  8. SailorStar says

    jmf @9: “At least baseball is honest enough to have a farm team/minors system. Not so for football and basketball who offload the development cost to the higher education system.”

    I know anecdotes are not data, but here’s something that happened just a few years ago, to one of my kids who was in college at the time: he was living in the dorms and his roommate transferred schools mid-term, so he was stuck with a 23-year-old soccer player the college had recruited. The soccer player was angry at not getting into the athlete’s dorm and had nothing but contempt for the paying-student dorms. He had been recruited by the school a couple of years earlier just to play soccer, but he flunked out, so the university paid for him to attend a local community college for a semester and then bring him back in as a “transfer student”. The guy never went to a single class--he spent his time perma-baked and/or drunk. My kid didn’t think he even had books or notebooks or anything scholastic--he was there to play soccer. Trashed the room regularly. It was a long, long semester until my kid could make plans to live in another situation.

    And that’s just for soccer, a sport most Americans don’t care about. The university has a decent reputation for football. Can you imagine what the football players are like?

  9. SailorStar says

    I went to a tiny branch of my state university that was known for its math and sciences. I suppose we must have had sports teams (not football, but I’m pretty sure there was basketball and field hockey?). It was a small enough school with no money to recruit, so if someone wanted to play a sport, they could just walk onto a team.

    What we did have, was dorm intramural sports: softball in the spring and (for some reason) rugby in the fall. The school provided the fields and some basic equipment. The teams were co-ed--whoever showed up, played. We had no uniforms. Dorms competed against each other, or sometimes if a lot of people showed up, one floor of one dorm would play against another floor. We won nothing unless people chipped in and someone bought the beer. We also had a running club that would meet and…run. That was it. The fun was in the comradery. IMO, this is the way to do college sports.

  10. says

    Toward the end of the documentary, the coach openly bragged that all the schools that had played them, even after finding out the whole thing was fake, recently indicated they wanted to play his team again next year. If true, that’s a pretty telling indicator of how totally lacking in any moral compass the high-school-football business really is.

    Also, calling oneself a “religious” school should NEVER mean no one ever bothers to look into any of your (real or alleged) activities. Calling oneself “religious” doesn’t place you above accountability.

  11. John Morales says

    If true, that’s a pretty telling indicator of how totally lacking in any moral compass the high-school-football business really is.

    If true, it indicates that the team really belonged in that league.

    (I mean, we’re talking sport, not education, right?)

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