ESPN got tricked into airing a high school football game featuring a team representing a high school that may not exist
One game of the GEICO High School Football Kickoff featured one of the top high school football programs in the country defeating a team that may not represent an actual high school
It’s not an everyday occurrence for an athlete or team to straight-up con and/or defraud themselves into a televised sporting event, although it has happened in the past.
Perhaps the most infamous example of an athlete or team conning and/or defrauding prior to this year occurred in the 1982 Winston 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National stock car race. Here’s a video Fox Sports produced about it; anything else I could add would be redundant:
Flash forward to 2021. The World Wide Web and internet search engines are a thing now, and, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, the GEICO High School Football Kickoff, is scheduled for the final weekend in August. The GEICO Kickoff is a series of seven regular-season high school football games, which are nationally televised in the United States and typically feature the top high school football teams and players in the country.
One of the games featured a team representing the IMG Academy of Bradenton, Florida. The IMG Academy is a sports-oriented boarding high school. They’re a gimmick high school in that they are far more heavily sports-oriented than nearly every other high school in the United States, but they have enough academic classes and facilities to count as a legitimate educational institution. IMG’s opponent in Canton was Bishop Sycamore High School, a high school that may or may not exist. The two teams played a game as part of the GEICO Kickoff, which was televised on ESPN and won by IMG by a score of 59–0.
Bishop Sycamore, which claims to be from the Columbus, Ohio area, has been described as a “quasi-school” by Slate magazine. Any high school with the word “bishop” in its name is typically, but not always, a Catholic parochial school, but the Columbus Archdiocese has no record of a Bishop Sycamore High School existing in their jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which is responsible for regulating and sponsoring championships in high school football in Ohio, does not recognize Bishop Sycamore as a member school. Long story short, it’s not clear if Bishop Sycamore High School is a legitimate educational institution or not.
Bishop Sycamore appears to have tricked Paragon Marketing Group, the organizer of the GEICO Kickoff, into playing in the GEICO Kickoff by falsely claiming to have multiple top college football prospects on their roster.
To make matters worse, Bishop Sycamore played a football game only two days before playing IMG. Unless there is a split-squad arrangement, which there was not for Bishop Sycamore, it is generally considered a player safety hazard for a college or high school football team to play two games fewer than five days apart (fewer than four days apart for the NFL).
During the ESPN broadcast of the IMG vs. Bishop Sycamore game, the announcers openly acknowledged that their employer had been at least indirectly duped into airing a game involving a team that had no business playing high school football against a powerhouse program:
It is absolutely inexcusable that ESPN and/or Paragon failed to do even basic research into whether or not Bishop Sycamore was a legitimate, top-tier high school football program before the game started. Something as simple as a Google search should have turned up a number of red flags about Bishop Sycamore.
It’s safe to say that you’re probably not going to see Bishop Sycamore’s football program on national television anymore, and that’s a good thing.