ESPN Regrets Televising Bishop Sycamore vs. IMG Academy HSFB Game

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVAugust 30, 2021

A football stands on a kick-off tee before an NFL football game between the New York Jets and the New York Jets Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
AP Photo/Kyusung Gong

After airing a one-sided high school football game that ended 58-0 on Sunday, ESPN said it was a mistake made by Paragon Marketing Group, via Jack Baer of Yahoo Sports:

"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. They have ensured us that they will take steps to prevent this kind of situation from happening moving forward."

While IMG Academy was worthy of inclusion on national television, Bishop Sycamore raised concerns after allegedly embellishing the skill of its football team before the blowout loss. 

"Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on their roster, and to be frank, a lot of that, we could not verify," ESPN's announcers said during the game (h/t Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing). "They did not show up in our database, they did not show up in the databases of other recruiting services. ... From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a fair fight."

Bishop Sycamore director Andre Peterson discussed college offers made to his players with The Athletic's Andy Staples and Ari Wasserman.

“I try to defend when people who say, ‘Oh well, yeah, you lied about kids having Division I offers?’" Peterson said. "Well, I guess the best way for me to fight against that is having you sit down with us on signing day.”

The Ohio-based team also reportedly played another game on Friday, just two days before its game on ESPN.

Coach Roy Johnson told Staples and Wasserman that Bishop Sycamore typically fields two teams.

“We had a couple guys play a couple series in that one game to give them a look because we didn’t have practice that day. Normally, what we would have was practice Friday, walkthrough Saturday and played on Sunday. So instead of that, we had some series here and plays there with a couple things to work on for IMG.”

Per Staples and Wasserman, quarterback Trilian Harris played in both games during the three-game stretch.

President of Paragon Marketing Group Rashid Ghazi told Ben Koo of Awful Announcing that they would have canceled the game had they known Bishop Sycamore played earlier in the weekend. 

It created significant injury risk for the players beyond the one-sided battle on the field. The program reportedly first started last season and entered the game with an 0-8 record over two years.

Ghazi took full responsibility for the scheduling of the game when speaking to The Athletic.

“The vetting process and the issues with the matchup are 100 percent on Paragon,” Ghazi said, per Staples and Wasserman. “As the guy who founded the ESPN relationship and the president of the company, it’s really 100 percent on me.”

Bishop Sycamore is an online-only charter school that is not affiliated with the Ohio High School Athletic Association, per Chris Easterling of The Independent.

IMG Academy, meanwhile, earned a national championship with an 8-0 record in 2020 and has seven players ranked in the top 100 of the 2022 recruiting class, per 247Sports.