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Fake Football Team Threatens High School Sports Integrity

High school football game.
High school football game. Photo by Steve Allen via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What if they played a high school football game and one of the combatants wasn’t really a high school?

This isn’t a riddle or a bad joke, but an actual situation played out on national television, exposing ugly truths about so-called amateur sports in this country.

The first of those verities is that there are those who will do whatever it takes to make a buck even in a realm where money isn’t supposed to be a component.

Second on the list is there are those who will facilitate the afore-mentioned conduct so long as they get a piece of the action.

And third is that we’ve all become complicit in the activity, knowingly or not.

The “game” in question took place between IMG Academy of Florida and Bishop Sycamore of Columbus nearly two weeks ago.

IMG Academy isn’t your standard high school with lockers and pep rallies and bad cafeteria food. It’s owned by the William Morris Endeavor Agency, which represents some of the nation’s highest profile actors and athletes.

Young men and women enroll at the Academy to hone their crafts on a sub-collegiate level before they are turned loose on a college or university.

And when their college days are over and it’s time for these talented young folks to find representation, they’ll hopefully remember dear old IMG.

The “wink-wink, nod-nod” of IMG is a walk in the park compared to the flat-out chicanery practiced by Bishop Sycamore.

Don’t go looking for Bishop Sycamore on a map of Columbus. For that matter, don’t go looking for the person Bishop Sycamore. He doesn’t exist.

The Sycamore team was a blend of teenagers and elders gathered together on some level to well, make a buck.

The matchup, won by IMG 58-0, aired on one of the ESPN channels and was arranged by a marketing firm ironically called Paragon Marketing.

In the days since Bishop Sycamore’s chicanery was revealed, both Paragon and ESPN have issued the requisite mea culpas with promises that something like this will never happen again.

But there’s not a single rationally thinking soul who doesn’t know in their heart of hearts that there will be more incidents like this. There’s simply too much money at stake for there not to be.

Sure, ESPN and Paragon are the visible symbols of this mess, but only because they’re willing to be upfront about what they’re about.

There are plenty of public and private schools that dress their pursuit of fame and cash up around the wholesome blend of academics and athletics. But nothing about what much of high school sports is these days is wholesome.

The morass of pre-collegiate athletics didn’t just happen overnight. This is decades in the making. Indeed, for all their high mindedness, the last two Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama should have appointed equally high-minded education secretaries.

They could have come in and cleaned up high school sports, applying, for example, national criteria for student and school athletic eligibility.

The current occupant of the White House, Joe Biden, and his secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, ought to seize the opportunity afforded by the Bishop Sycamore scandal and take control before high school sports becomes even more of a joke.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Get in touch:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.