What happened to Bishop Sycamore? Months later, documentaries in works, questions unanswered

·5 min read

For a few days in late August, it was arguably the biggest story in sports – or, at the very least, the most confounding.

When Bishop Sycamore lost a nationally-televised football game to IMG Academy, 58-0, ESPN's broadcasters wondered on-air if they'd been duped by a program that claimed it had several Division I recruits. And when reporters started digging into the story, they found allegations of overage players, exaggerated rosters, dubious academics, unpaid bills, bad checks – and even simple details about the school that were difficult to verify.

In the week that followed, Bishop Sycamore's future opponents canceled their games. The program's founder defended the school as legitimate and not "a scam." The head football coach was supposedly let go. The new coach claimed "we are not a school" and chalked up the confusion to "a mistake on paperwork." Gov. Mike DeWine announced that he had asked the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to investigate.

And then, in a matter of days, the story fizzled as quickly as it had caught fire.

Three months later, much about the present and future of Bishop Sycamore remains unclear. Authorities say they are continuing to investigate the possibly fictitious school. Multiple Bishop Sycamore documentaries have been announced, including one that's been picked up by HBO. And the players and coaches involved have largely gone quiet.

"I’m really not saying much because they’re shooting that HBO special. So I’m kind of just tight-lipped on that," the supposedly-fired Bishop Sycamore coach, Roy Johnson, said last week.

Bishop Sycamore quarterback Trillian Harris shown during a game in August.
Bishop Sycamore quarterback Trillian Harris shown during a game in August.

"A lot of that will shed light on what’s going on and where the program is moving."

The ODE expected to finish its investigation into the legitimacy of Bishop Sycamore last month, but Breann González Almos, a spokesperson for the governor's office, said Friday that the probe is ongoing.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost indicated to a Columbus television station that his office had also opened its own probe into Bishop Sycamore, though spokespeople for the office later declined to confirm or deny that it was investigating.

Ben Ferree, who investigated the program and its leaders during his previous job at the Ohio High School Athletic Association, said the waning interest in the story has been unsurprising yet disheartening.

"There’s been no consequences at all, yet, for the people responsible for Bishop Sycamore," Ferree said. "I know investigations can take some time. ... But I’m not holding my breath."

ODE spokesperson Mandy Minick said Monday that Bishop Sycamore is not recognized on the current list of non-chartered, non-tax supported schools in Ohio – though it did file paperwork with the state to be recognized as such.

In its annual certification report for the 2021-22 school year, Bishop Sycamore lists the school's official physical address as a home associated with founder Andre Peterson, and a total enrollment of one student.

Peterson and Tyren Jackson, who's identified himself as Bishop Sycamore's new football coach earlier this fall, did not respond to messages from USA TODAY Sports.

It's largely unclear what happened to the players on Bishop Sycamore's football team, or if they went on to play at a new schools. At least two players have since moved back to California, where they had previously played high school football. A third player, Armond Scott, said in October that he was trying to find somewhere to play in Ohio. He did not respond to a follow-up message.

Johnson, meanwhile, declined to say if he is still involved with the program after he was supposedly fired in September. But he did confirm that Bishop Sycamore had been contacted by the ODE as part of its investigation, which he described as frivolous.

"There’s really nothing to investigate," Johnson said. "It’s paperwork, but everybody can see. I don’t really know."

Roy Johnson was among the leaders at Christians of Faith Academy before becoming the football coach at Bishop Sycamore.
Roy Johnson was among the leaders at Christians of Faith Academy before becoming the football coach at Bishop Sycamore.

When asked what happened to Bishop Sycamore after the spotlight on the story dimmed, Johnson replied: "What happened after is that my feelings were hurt." He accused news media outlets of fueling false perceptions about Bishop Sycamore, saying the program did have multiple Division I prospects on its roster, and a physical location.

Johnson said he expects to be "vindicated" by the forthcoming HBO documentary, which is due to be released sometime in 2022. He signed a deal with one of the project's production companies to give them "exclusive rights and access" to his side of the story. Constance Schwartz-Morini and Michael Strahan are among the documentary's executive producers.

"You get a chance to actually take an objective look at what went on, what happened, what’s the truth and what’s just – as the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, said – fake news. So I’m just excited about that," Johnson said.

Ferree has also signed a deal with a documentary project, though he declined to provide specifics, citing a confidentiality agreement. He said he hopes the show will have the opposite effect – sparking fresh questions about the dubious school and its leaders.

Before Bishop Sycamore, Ferree investigated another suspicious school that was co-founded by Johnson in 2018 under a different name, Christians of Faith Academy. The COF Academy was later shut down by the ODE, and the people behind it have faced a string of lawsuits alleging hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid loans and bills, according to court records.

"I would like to see Roy Johnson and the others behind this held to account," Ferree said. "But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think any charges will ever come of this. I don’t think people care enough. ... And I don’t think the victims are important enough to the people who have been charged with handling it."

Bishop Sycamore was involved in a criminal investigation earlier this fall after a Canton, Ohio hotel accused the program of using invalid checks to pay for 25 rooms around the time of the IMG Academy game. Police spokesperson Dennis Garren said a detective reviewed the case with a local prosecutor and declined to file any charges.

Ultimately, Ferree said he would describe Bishop Sycamore as "down but not out."

"It wouldn’t shock me if they do this again – under a different name, or even under the same name," he said. "That wouldn’t shock me."

Contributing: Chris Bumbaca

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: High school football: Bishop Sycamore controversy lingers months later