On Sunday, one of the strangest stories of the sports year emerged after IMG Academy, the nation’s top high school football program, decimated little-known Bishop Sycamore, 58-0, in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
During the game, ESPN’s announce team couldn’t help but be appalled at what they were watching, as an undermanned, undertalented team was getting dominated (and at some points hurt) by vastly superior competition. However, things got stranger after folks started to look into Bishop Sycamore, a prep school program that is sketchy at best and an outright scam at worst. The school’s website is a sparsely populated blog, there are discrepancies about a physical address for the program, the head coach reportedly has an active arrest warrant out for him, the team played two games in three days in two different states despite only having a roster of 35 or so players, and much, much more.
All of it begged the question of how this game got on national TV (where a number of parties, including ESPN and Paragon Marketing Group, are to blame), but it also made plenty wonder why this program clearly not operating on the up-and-up would invite this much attention to an apparent grift. That attention has made them the face of scam prep schools, and on Monday night, Complex Sports interviewed former player Aaron Boyd — who played the 2018 season with the team back when it was COF Academy — who explained just how bad it is there (and included photos from his time there as proof).
The entire interview is a fascinating read, as he recalls promises of a fancy campus and facility, as well as a coaching staff that started with 10, only to end up staying in a hotel for five months with a coaching staff of two and a “team mom,” with no funding and no school. Boyd said they never had class — he said they went to a library once for “class” but by that point, the charade was up — but the parts about the financials raised the most eyebrows, including how the coach paid the hotel in bounced checks.
There was no building. Aight, listen to this. This is the crazy shit, this what you wanna hear. I first moved out there, we were staying in a hotel in Delaware [Ohio]. We were staying there for like five months.
Five months. Didn’t have no housing. All the players came to find out, we never paid the hotel. [The school was] writing them bounced checks. The head coach of Bishop Sycamore wasn’t the head coach. He was like an athletic director. He was the n**** that was behind all of it. He was writing bounced checks for everything. For everything. We never paid for anything.
Given that there was no money for housing, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Boyd said there wasn’t money for equipment or meals, leaving the kids to resort to whatever means necessary to get food.
For the last month and a half, we had about 35 players. We moved into these new houses. For that month and a half, we was all sleeping on the floor. We had to go rob Meijers, Krogers, Walmart because that’s the only way we can eat.
Boyd was supposed to be at COF Academy for his junior year, but effectively lost out on his junior season after transferring out because he hadn’t been doing any school work and had to catch up in the spring and summer just to be able to be eligible to play his senior season back at an actual high school. He also confirmed that, while he thinks the “former JUCO player” reports might be exaggerated, a number of the players were out of high school so those players weren’t as impacted by the lack of classes.
Still, it’s clear that Bishop Sycamore has some shadiness going on, and whatever short-sighted aspirations they had for getting on ESPN, all it’s gotten them is exposure in the worst possible way.