What's next for Bishop Sycamore? Investigations but not much football

·6 min read

It's been almost two weeks since a little-known high school called Bishop Sycamore lost a lopsided football game on ESPN, prompting questions about the quality of its team – which supposedly included multiple Division-I prospects – and the legitimacy of its academics.

In the immediate aftermath of that 58-0 loss to IMG Academy, Bishop Sycamore's leader has claimed the school is "not a scam," even though its listed physical addresses belong to a university library and a Columbus, Ohio athletic complex. Its head coach, Roy Johnson, has been fired. And the new coach, Tyren Jackson, has told a Columbus media outlet that Bishop Sycamore has no curriculum and is not a school, but rather a "post-grad football academy."

So where does Bishop Sycamore go from here?

As the spotlight on this story begins to dim, here's a look at what might come next for Bishop Sycamore, both on and off the field.

A blank schedule

Let's start on the field, where it seems unlikely that Bishop Sycamore will play another game – at least this season.

In the wake of the IMG Academy game, every other team that was scheduled to play Bishop Sycamore this season has canceled, leaving the school with a blank schedule. Some of those opponents cited Bishop Sycamore's lack of accreditation, or liability issues that would arise if Bishop Sycamore fielded ineligible players.

BEFORE BISHOP SYCAMORE: There was Christians of Faith Academy, along with lawsuits and unanswered questions

"Student safety is our top priority and I can’t ask our student athletes to take the field next week without knowing more about who they will be facing," said Dwight Weaver, the athletic director of Duncanville (Texas) High School.

Bishop Sycamore still has been trying to solicit new opponents on social media, however, and The Columbus Dispatch reported last week that players were spotted practicing.

Jackson, Bishop Sycamore director Andre Peterson and four players on the team have not returned messages left by USA TODAY Sports.

No timeline on state investigation

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has instructed the state's department of education to investigate Bishop Sycamore "to ensure compliance with Ohio law and to ensure the school is providing the educational opportunities Ohio students deserve."

Ohio Department of Education spokesperson Mandy Minick told USA TODAY Sports in an email Thursday that the department "shares Governor DeWine’s concerns" and is actively investigating the matter.

"I cannot, at this time, provide a specific timeline on an investigation, only confirm that the Department will proceed consistent with the governor’s request," Minick wrote in the email.

Bishop Sycamore has an 0-3 record this season, with other opponents canceling games following questions about the school.
Bishop Sycamore has an 0-3 record this season, with other opponents canceling games following questions about the school.

Bishop Sycamore was registered as a non-chartered, non-tax supported school for the 2020-21 school year – meaning that it chose not to be chartered by the state due to "truly held religious beliefs." Schools in this category do not receive many of the benefits of tax-supported schools but are still subject to some of the same basic requirements.

Bishop Sycamore has yet to file its paperwork with the state for the current school year, according to Minick. The deadline is Sept. 30.

What will come of the state's probe?

The department of education's investigation in Bishop Sycamore might end in the same way that the probe into its predecessor, Christians of Faith (COF) Academy, ended less than three years ago.

After being alerted that COF Academy wasn't teaching students at its listed address, the state's department of education conducted an unannounced site visit and quickly confirmed that claim. COF Academy was then removed from the state's list of non-chartered, non-tax supported schools, and that was that.

If the department of education finds that Bishop Sycamore is not actually a school – as Jackson acknowledged in an interview with NBC 4 Columbus earlier this week – it would simply be removed from the state's list, as COF Academy was three years ago. Though any evidence obtained in that investigation could also possibly be referred to other authorities – such as the state attorney general's office or law enforcement.

Will other investigations follow?

When asked by USA TODAY Sports if the Ohio Attorney General's Office is investigating Bishop Sycamore, spokesperson Bethany McCorkle replied: "We do not comment on the existence of or potential for investigations."

However, we do know that at least one law enforcement entity is looking into Bishop Sycamore and/or its leaders.

A hotel in Canton, Ohio told police that Bishop Sycamore wrote two invalid checks totaling $3,596 late last month, according to a report from The Canton Repository. The checks were supposed to pay for 25 rooms at around the same time the team faced IMG Academy.

Police spokesperson Dennis Garren told The Canton Repository last week that two suspects had been identified. He said Thursday that no charges have been filed, though the detective on the case has not completed their work.

Separately, Johnson – the former Bishop Sycamore football coach who was also the leader of COF Academy – has been the subject of numerous lawsuits amid allegations of unpaid bills. According to court records, he and/or his related business partners or associates have been accused by two banks and a hotel of failing to pay or repay more than $300,000.

In one of the lawsuits, a judge recently ruled that Johnson and fellow COF Academy leader Jay Richardson must repay a six-figure sum after engaging in "fraudulent representation" – portraying themselves as representatives of a church when taking out a $100,000 loan. (Richardson does not appear to be involved with Bishop Sycamore.)

Johnson and Peterson, the director of Bishop Sycamore, are also facing a more recent lawsuit from a transportation company, alleging they owe roughly $13,000 for buses they rented last year.

Reaping financial benefits of fame

One of the few sure things about Bishop Sycamore's future? It will be the center of at least one documentary or docu-series.

HartBeat Productions, founded by actor Kevin Hart, has already announced plans to put together a docu-series on Bishop Sycamore. And SMAC Entertainment, co-founded by Michael Strahan, announced Wednesday that it is paying Johnson for "exclusive rights and access ... for all television and film projects."

SMAC's announcement came on the same day that Johnson, who had an outstanding warrant for his arrest after violating terms of his probation, appeared in court. His probation, which stems from criminal mischief charge, has been extended until March 2022.

Johnson is not the only one trying to capitalize on Bishop Sycamore's viral turn. The school has also created a web site to sell merchandise, with hoodies priced at $50 apiece.

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

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bishop Sycamore football: What's next for questionable Ohio school?