Showcase game put spotlight on potentially shady Bishop Sycamore football program

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After a shellacking in a game televised on ESPN revealed an Ohio prep football team wasn’t the top-tier talent it purported to be, the legitimacy of the school itself is now in question.

As sports observers wondered how Bishop Sycamore ended up in the game in the first place, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday he’d asked the Ohio Department of Education to investigate whether the school complies with minimum standards under Ohio law and provides “the educational opportunities Ohio students deserve.”

Bishop Sycamore’s 58-0 loss to powerhouse IMG Academy from Bradenton, Florida, on Sunday in Canton raised concerns not only about player safety but about the Ohio school’s operations, DeWine said in a written statement.

In a required report filed with the state last year, Bishop Sycamore reported having just three enrolled students learning in a blended model of “online and traditional learning,” and its address was listed as a library at a university in downtown Columbus that now says it didn’t actually end up renting space to the school, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

As a “non-charter, non-tax-supported school,” state rules could allow Bishop Sycamore to bypass normal systems of operation “because of truly held religious beliefs,” but it hasn’t reported its enrollment to the local public district as the state requires for such schools, and it hasn’t filed a report with the education department for this year, the Dispatch reported.

The report submitted to the department last year was signed by founder Andre Peterson, who coaches the team’s offensive and defensive line and is a father of one of the players, the newspaper said.

In comments to USA TODAY Sports, Peterson said the team’s coach had been fired after Sunday’s blowout, and denied that there was any “scam” to the game or the school, saying Bishop Sycamore helps players hoping to compete in college.

The game had been among matchups scheduled by Paragon Marketing Group for ESPN, which has told reporters it regrets what happened.

Paragon’s president, Rashid Ghazi, told WKYC-TV they were “misled” about the team’s roster, should have had a more thorough vetting process, and will do so henceforward with regard to independent, non-traditional schools.

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