The Bishop Sycamore Football Controversy, Explained

By now you’ve heard of Bishop Sycamore, the infamous high school at the heart of one of the biggest American sports stories of the year. So how did we get here?


Image via Getty/Darrin Klimek


By now you’ve heard of Bishop Sycamore, the maybe-real, maybe-fake, high school at the center of one of the biggest American sports stories of the year. But prior to Sunday, pretty much nobody had heard of the Ohio online-only charter school.

That all changed Sunday, when ESPN aired a high school football game between Florida’s powerhouse IMG Academy and the now infamous Bishop Sycamore, whose 58-0 loss—and the way it played out on national television—raised serious questions about the team’s legitimacy. 

“Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on their roster,” broadcaster Anish Shroff said during the game. “To be frank, a lot of that we could not verify.” 

It was a bad look for ESPN, who released a statement putting the onus on a company called Paragon Marketing Group, who the network said was responsible for pitting the two teams against one another. In the days that followed, more stories about the mysterious Bishop Sycamore have emerged, painting a picture of a virtually nonexistent school with a barebones football program run by a cast of shady characters with questionable pasts. It’s no wonder social media has been ablaze with incredulous tweets, hilarious memes, and of course, a whole lot of questions. 

Let’s take a look at how we got here, shall we?

Bishop Sycamore was founded by Andre Peterson, who also coaches the football team’s offensive and defensive lines. The team’s head coach, Roy Johnson, was fired after Sunday’s game, Peterson told USA Today

He also told the outlet that the school’s football program is not a “scam,” despite the fact that they went 0-6 last year, losing all games by way of blowout. With no address listed on the school’s low-rent website, it appears to be online-only. Last year, the Ohio Department of Education listed Bishop Sycamore as a “non-chartered, non-tax supported school.” As for said website, it has next to no information about the school, and was last updated in May.

The team itself is mostly postgraduates, with some having a history with junior college football. Throughout the years, they’ve faced issues with game cancellations due to roster issues, travel logistics, and accomodations problems. Their opponents have also backed out because of the older age of some of Bishop’s players.

Bishop Sycamore's game against Mainland (FL) in 2019 was canceled because Sycamore didn't supply a roster to The Freedom Bowl and didn't make hotel reservations in the 30-day window.

More from The Daytona News-Journal:

— Joseph Hoyt (@JoeJHoyt) August 30, 2021

ESPN and Paragon, both of whom were behind the GEICO ESPN High School Kickoff, said they were led to believe that Bishop had high calibre players, which is why they were greenlit to be IMG’s opponent. 

After Bishop Sycamore’s crushing 58-0 defeat on Sunday, as well as ESPN’s admission that they had essentially been duped by the school, people began to wonder how something so egregious could’ve happened, especially after it came out that Bishop had also played on Friday. 

Spoke to President of Paragon Marketing Group, Rashid Ghazi, whose company scheduled the game. Said he would have cancelled the game if they knew that a team had played on Friday.

We reviewed Friday's film, and it seems like players played both games. Update coming soon

— Ben Koo (@bkoo) August 30, 2021

Paragon Marketing Group, the company who scheduled the game, and its president Rashid Ghazi, denied having knowledge of the Friday game. Ghazi also admitted that Paragon did not do their due diligence in researching Bishop Sycamore. 

“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,” ESPN said in an official statement less than a day after the game aired. “They have ensured us that they will take steps to prevent this kind of situation from happening moving forward.”

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of it all, was the report that Bishop lied to the organizers about having D1 prospects on the team. It’s still unclear how neither ESPN or Paragon researched the team prior to Sunday’s game, which just so happened to be against one of the best high school football teams in the country. 

On Tuesday August 31, USA Today reported that at least one future opponent of the team has backed out of their scheduled game. DeMatha was previously set to face off against the school on October 1, but have cancelled following the aftermath of Sunday’s game.

“We have been doing a lot of researching, and after discussing it with our coaching staff, we have decided to cancel that game with Bishop Sycamore because they have ineligible players and it would be a liability issue,” DeMatha Catholic High School president Fr. James R. Day said. “We think this is the right decision.” 

Bishop Sycamore and its founder are now facing allegations that the organization is a “scam.” Andre Peterson, who we introduced you to earlier, has denied these allegations.

“There’s nothing that I’ve gotten out of this that would constitute it as a scam because I’m not gaining anything financially from what we’re doing,” Peterson told USA Today. “The reality of it is that I have a son (Javan) that’s also in the program and has been in the program for four years. … If it’s a scam and the kids are not going to school and not doing what they’re supposed to do, then I’m literally scamming myself. And most importantly, I’m hurting my own son. So when people say stuff like that … I would literally be taking my son’s future and throwing it in the trash.”

Meanwhile, the since-fired coach, Roy Johnson, allegedly has an active arrest warrant over fraud charges. Prior to working for Bishop Sycamore, he coached startup football program Christians of Faith in Columbus, per Tribe Live. There are also multiple civil lawsuits filed against him, including a 2019 case brought against him by ARN Hospitality over claims he owes a Delaware, Ohio Baymont hotel $110,685, per Fox News.

As for the questions as to where Bishop Sycamore is actually located, since the only listed address is a P.O. box, Peterson said the school has existed for four years but also claimed it was founded in 2019. He said the location is private to protect his students, although there’s still no indication that Bishop Sycamore even has any students outside of the players on its football team.

Either way, it looks like Peterson will have some more questions to answer, after Ohio governor Mike DeWine ordered an investigation. 

Like many Ohioans, I am concerned by the recent reports and questions raised about Bishop Sycamore. 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.

— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) August 31, 2021

“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,” he tweeted on Tuesday,

Schools like Bishop Sycamore have an obligation under Ohio law to meet certain minimum standards. Whether Bishop Sycamore meets these standards is not clear.

— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) August 31, 2021

I have asked @OHEducation 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.

— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) August 31, 2021

DeWine said he ordered 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.”

As we mentioned earlier, Roy Johnson was fired after the game. Now, maybe it was for optics, maybe it’s because of his legal troubles, or maybe it’s because of coaching decisions like this one: 

You said “this could be dangerous” a couple of snaps later Bishop Sycamore’s “best athlete” goes down… the coach doesn’t approve a running clock… sad! He needs to answer.

— Parker Branton (@ParkerBranton) August 29, 2021

Oh, and here he is trying to justify playing his guys twice in three days: 

Bishop Sycamore's 'Roy Johnson' on playing his center in 2 games over 3 days:

— Joe Kinsey (@JoeKinseyexp) August 30, 2021

Either way, it looks like Johnson’s coaching days may be numbered.

Peterson, meanwhile, said it has been suggested that he fold the program, but he told USA Today that he has no intention of doing that. “I have kids that are dependent on what we do. For me to start all over and send them home and say, ‘Hey, you work it out for yourself,’ would be a disservice to them. I just know that we have things to get right," he said. “We have to make this to where every question that’s asked, there’s an answer to it.”

Not many Bishop players, both past and present, have spoken out about their experiences at the school. 

Perhaps the most prominent example of someone willing to spill the tea is Aaron Boyd, who claims to be the first player ever recruited by Bishop Sycamore. In a recent interview with Complex, Boyd said he and other football hopefuls were enticed to play at Bishop by promises that included appearing in a Netflix documentary. When he ultimately relocated to Ohio, there wasn’t even a campus for the school.

“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,” Boyd explained. “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*gga that was behind all of it. He was writing bounced checks for everything. For everything. We never paid for anything.”

He confirmed reports that head coach Roy Johnson has an arrest warrant to his name. “I didn’t know what the warrant was for but if it’s for writing bounced checks that’s accurate,” he said, suggesting that Johnson could be wanted on fraud charges. Also, when Boyd left the school due to the poor experience he had, he needed to redo his whole junior year so that he could play football in his senior year.

As for the academic experience, Boyd said there essentially was none. “We didn’t go to school. We never went to school. I can’t lie, they tried once. They took us to a community library. One day. It was already October—the season was about to be over,” he said. It was like at this point, ‘Well, shit, I’m not going to school. Y’all haven’t put me through school this whole time.’”

Two other players, who wish to remain anonymous, said that Johnson promised them schooling at Franklin University, and access to the practice facilities at Ohio State. Instead, there was no schooling and they practiced “right outside the apartment complex, and there were other Ohio State Students living there.” 

Among other disturbing details, Johnson apparently told his players to jump a homeless man who attempted to break into his car. " I got hurt early in the season and I ended up playing hurt the majority of the season because we didn’t have any athletic trainers," one of the players said. "And the eating thing there was crazy. We probably ate one hot-dog every two days."

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