Bishop Sycamore director on ESPN game controversy: Football program is not a 'scam'

Chris Bumbaca
USA TODAY

Bishop Sycamore is trending for all the wrong reasons. 

A blowout loss in a game on ESPN supposedly against two elite high school football teams has drawn national attention and questions about the legitimacy of Bishop Sycamore as a football program and an educational institution. 

The school claims to be based in Columbus, Ohio, though there's no address listed on the website. On Sunday, it lost to the second-ranked team in the country, IMG Academy of Florida, 58-0.

Andre Peterson, who played for Jim Tressel at Youngstown State in the 1980s, is Bishop Sycamore's founder, director and currently coaches the football team's offensive and defensive lines.  

FUTURE SCHEDULE:One opponent of Bishop Sycamore has backed out of its game against program

On Tuesday, he told USA TODAY Sports that the football coach, Roy Johnson had been fired Sunday after the game. Peterson also defended Bishop Sycamore's purpose of giving players a better chance of playing college football and denied any inkling of a "scam" related to Sunday's game or Bishop Sycamore.  

On Sunday, Bishop Sycamore lost to the second-ranked team in the country, IMG Academy of Florida, 58-0.

"There’s nothing that I’ve gotten out of this that would constitute it as a scam because I’m not gaining anything financially from what we’re doing," Peterson told USA TODAY Sports on Monday night. "The reality of it is that I have a son (Javan) that’s also in the program and has been in the program for four years.

"If it’s a scam and the kids are not going to school and not doing what they’re supposed to do, then I’m literally scamming myself. And most importantly, I’m hurting my own son. So when people say stuff like that … I would literally be taking my son’s future and throwing it in the trash." 

In addition to lacking basic information about the school, Bishop Sycamore's website looks more like a football blog with advice on how to be recruited. 

"We have to make sure that website also includes the academic part of it. There’s things that you learn," he said. "There’s growing pains that you have. We realized that’s an issue. The reality of it is we’ve caused some of the questions by not doing some of the things that should have been done before. So that’s understandable. I totally get that.

“We have to make it an actual school website.”

However, the Ohio Department of Education lists no charter school for 2021-22 by the name Bishop Sycamore, and last year the department listed Bishop Sycamore as a "non-chartered, non-tax supported school," a type of school that "because of truly held religious beliefs, choose to not be chartered by the State Board of Education."

On Tuesday afternoon, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a tweet he has directed the Ohio Department of Education to conduct an investigation into Bishop Sycamore. "Schools like Bishop Sycamore have an obligation under Ohio law to meet certain minimum standards. Whether Bishop Sycamore meets these standards is not clear," DeWine tweeted. 

On multiple occasions, Peterson said the school has existed for four years, only to later say it was founded in 2019.

When asked why Bishop Sycamore's listed address is a P.O. box, he said the school's actual location is private to protect students who were harassed at their pre-pandemic location. Bishop Sycamore rents space in a building in the Easton neighborhood of Columbus, according to Peterson. 

"Prior to COVID, the design of it is they go into the building, they have their computers, they sit down, they do their classes, we have some (adults) that are there that monitor what they do," Peterson said.

Peterson said it was suggested to him on Monday that he fold the program. 

"I can’t," Peterson said. "I have kids that are dependent on what we do. For me to start all over and send them home and say ‘Hey, you work it out for yourself,’ would be a disservice to them. I just know that we have things to get right.

“We have to make this to where every question that’s asked, there’s an answer to it.” 

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

Contributing: Bailey Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch