ESPN televised a high school football game on Sunday. We can say that much.
On one sideline was Florida's IMG Academy, which you may know as the biggest athlete factory in the country. The entity is less a high school and more a finishing school for select athletes from across the country to prepare for the collegiate or professional ranks. Its list of athletic alumni has its own Wikipedia page, featuring nearly two dozen NFL players.
On the other sideline was Bishop Sycamore out of Ohio, a well-regarded program with multiple Division I prospects. Or so ESPN apparently thought.
The end result on the field was a nationally televised 58-0 shellacking of Bishop Sycamore. One side looked like an All-Star team of future college football players — IMG has literally a quarter of Rivals' top 40 Class of 2022 players in the state of Florida — and the other looked like, well, an average high school team that had bitten off more than it could chew.
— Who's Next (@WhosNextHS) August 29, 2021
Comically one-sided blowouts are a typical byproduct of a high school football environment that includes superteams like IMG Academy. What is not typical is ESPN's announcers bluntly telling the audience that the blowout victim basically lied on its résumé to get on national TV.
ESPN announcers say Bishop Sycamore lied about its football team
Midway through the second quarter of Sunday's game, with IMG Academy already up 30-0, ESPN's announcers had this to say, according to Awful Announcing:
"You look at IMG and this is the most talented prep team in the country. 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. They did not show up in our database, they did not show up in the databases of other recruiting services. So, OK, that’s what you’re telling us, fine, that’s how we take it in. From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a fair fight, and there’s got to be a point where you’re worried about health and safety.
“I already am worried about it. I think this could potentially be dangerous given the circumstances and the mismatch that we have here. And quite honestly, Bishop Sycamore doesn’t have not only the front-line players, but they don’t have the depth in case something were to happen to their roster with a kid or two here throughout the remaining two quarters of this football game.”
A day later, ESPN released the following statement to 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.”
ESPN notes that it was Paragon Marketing Group who was responsible for the matchup and that the company has been assured steps will be taken to avoid a repeat of Sunday. That might include some basic background checking.
A quick check of Rivals' top prospects of Ohio in 2022 and 2023 returns the name "Bishop Sycamore" zero times. According to MaxPreps, the team went 0-6 last season, getting outscored 227-42 with a 56-6 loss to IMG, and was already 0-1 this season.
That previous loss is where the situation gets even more bizarre, as the team's record might have actually been 0-2 entering Sunday. The reason we say that is there is documentation of a Bishop Sycamore team playing in Ohio on Friday, two days before its showdown against IMG Academy.
— 𝑱𝒐𝒔𝒉 𝑱𝒆𝒏𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒔 (@Jay1kae) August 29, 2021
The schedule-makers responsible for the game, Paragon Marketing Group, reportedly told Awful Announcing they were not aware Bishop Sycamore played Friday and would have canceled the game if they were aware, so ESPN might not have been the only entity duped here.
We're also not talking about a normal high school team, as Bishop Sycamore is apparently an online-only charter school with a football program not affiliated with the Ohio High School Athletic Association that played its first season two years ago.
If all of this is true, if Bishop Sycamore really lied to ESPN and Paragon about its roster so it could play its second game in three days against a school of athletic monsters for the sole purpose of getting on television, then there are plenty of ways to describe this situation. Incredible. Ridiculous. Bizarre. But most of all, outrageously dangerous.
Even at its best, football is a dangerous sport. At its worst — and we think this could qualify as its worst — a group of teenagers getting seriously injured by a different level of athlete all because the adults who are ostensibly in charge of their education and safety wanted them on television for some combination of money and exposure.
It all sounds like some dystopian version of football featuring superteams, paper schools and marketing groups, resulting in a football game so boring that ESPN's announcers, in between their criticisms of Bishop Sycamore, started playing trivia games to pass the time as IMG Academy ran up the score.