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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

What began this week as a funny headline — "High school dupes ESPN, ends up on national TV" — has taken a dramatic turn, unearthing one of the wildest sagas in years.

Catch up quick: On Sunday, ESPN aired a high school football game between IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida) and Bishop Sycamore (Columbus, Ohio). IMG won, 58-0.

  • Following the game, ESPN claimed Bishop Sycamore lied about having D-I prospects and falsified its roster, which included many 19-and 20-year-olds.
  • We then learned that Bishop Sycamore had played another game in Pennsylvania two days prior — and that the mysterious school was not actually a "school" at all.

The aftermath: Bishop Sycamore was set to play the nation's fourth-hardest schedule, but most opponents (and a streaming service) have backed out. The head coach was let go on Tuesday, and the school's website — which was mostly blank pages — has been shut down.

Now, for the backstory...

What we know: Bishop Sycamore used to operate under the name Christians of Faith Academy. When COF Academy collapsed in 2018 amid fraud allegations, it rebranded.

  • Bishop Sycamore claims to be an online-only charter school based out of Columbus. But the Ohio Department of Education lists no charter school by that name.
  • The state lists the school's physical address as an indoor sports facility, where the football team works out about once a month, an employee told the Columbus Dispatch.
  • A recruiting address found online points to the library at Franklin University in Columbus, where Bishop Sycamore appears to have rented a room in the past, ostensibly for "classes."
  • The football team hasn't won a game since launching 2019, while getting outscored 342-49 and playing most games with a shorthanded roster.

What they're saying: Former players and parents have shared their stories this week. Aaron Boyd, who played for COF Academy in 2018, painted a particularly alarming picture.

"[When] I first moved out there, we were staying in a hotel ... for like five months. ... We didn't go to school [and] didn't have practice. We just went to games."
"They recruited us telling us we were gonna be on [Netflix]. They told us we're gonna be the IMG of the Midwest. They lied to me and my mama."
Boyd, via Complex

The other side: Andre Peterson, Bishop Sycamore's founder, director and offensive/defensive line coach, denies that the program is a scam.

  • "I'm not gaining anything financially from what we're doing," he told USA Today, adding that his son plays on the team. "If it's a scam ... then I'm literally scamming myself [and] hurting my own son."
  • Peterson has no plans to shut down. "For me to start all over and send them home ... would be a disservice to them. I just know that we have things to get right."

Between the lines: The irony of this saga is that IMG is also not really a "school." Like Bishop Sycamore (and others), it exists almost solely for sports. Unlike Bishop Sycamore, it's not fraudulent.

The bottom line: If Sunday's game had been closer, this never would have become such big news. Instead, Bishop Sycamore is now infamous — and might never play another football game.

  • "Bishop Sycamore's undoing was not its abhorrent practices, ultimately. It was its inability to play football at a high enough level," writes Defector's Casey Taylor.
  • "This has been going on in Columbus for three or four years now," said a former Ohio High School Athletic Association employee. "No one cared until it started trending on Twitter."

Go deeper

Columbus commits to large-scale solar park

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Construction will begin next year on a large-scale solar park located on the site of a former landfill in southern Columbus.

Why it matters: Local leaders are touting the project as part of a recent citywide emphasis on sustainable energy projects.

2 hours ago - Sports

Unvaccinated athletes face 21-day quarantine at Beijing Olympics

Logos for the 2022 Winter Olympics at Yanqing Ice Festival in February 2021 in Beijing. Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Athletes, staff members and journalists at the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be required to quarantine for three weeks, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) outlined in its newly-published "playbooks."

Why it matters: The quarantine period is longer than the Games themselves, meaning vaccinations or an earlier arrival date will be required to participate in or cover the Games.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

FTX CEO predicts more U.S. crypto flight

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

FTX doesn't look much like a company valued at $25 billion. Its new headquarters, located in a sleepy part of The Bahamas, is so nondescript as to not even have a sign. But it does expect to soon have neighbors.

Driving the news: Founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried tells "Axios on HBO" to expect "more and more crypto flight from the states" if the U.S. doesn't soon create a regulatory regime for cryptocurrencies.

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