Exactly one year ago today, the Bishop Sycamore high school football team took the field in a nationally televised game on ESPN, and proceeded to suffer a horrible 58-0 pounding by elite IMG Academy. That was just the beginning of the program’s problems. Investigations and dismissals followed, amid allegations Bishop Sycamore wasn’t even a legitimate high school and, indeed, operated more like a scam.
HBO announced today it is in production on BS High, a documentary about the scandal-plagued school in Columbus, Ohio, with a premiere expected next year on the cable network and streamer HBO Max. Filmmakers Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, who earned Academy Awards last year for their live action short Two Distant Strangers, are directing.
Hyperobject Industries’ Adam McKay and NFL Hall of Famer-turned GMA host Michael Strahan are among the project’s executive producers.
After the Centurions’ lopsided loss to IMG Academy, a lot of people had egg on their face, including the brass at ESPN, who had been fooled into believing they were set to air a real barn burner. Journalists and then officials in Ohio began to look into the matter, and whistleblowers came forward, including former Bishop Sycamore players.
One ex-Centurion told Complex magazine the school did not have any actual classroom facilities and the team never practiced—it just played games against other high schools, often several times a week. He also claimed there were 19- and 20-year-old men on the team. The father of a former BS quarterback told the Columbus Dispatch that players were not required to do any schoolwork.
“The blowout [loss],” HBO noted in a release, “caused fans and audiences to question the legitimacy of the Bishop Sycamore program and the activities of now-fired head coach Roy Johnson.”
Coach Johnson reportedly has agreed to participate in the documentary project. HBO did not disclose a roster of interviewees, but did share that BS High is “[e]xecutive produced by Adam McKay and Todd Schulman for Hyperobject Industries, Michael Strahan and Constance Schwartz-Morini’s SMAC Entertainment, Jay Peterson, Todd Lubin and Jack Turner for Boat Rocker’s Matador Content, Alex Mather and Ankur Chawla for The Athletic, and Spencer Paysinger for Moore Street Productions.”
The documentary presents an opportunity to shed light on the growing power of a select group of high school football programs, and their potential to earn significant television revenue. ESPN just concluded airing its High School Football Kickoff, a programming bonanza featuring “26 teams from 15 states and five teams in the ESPN 25 Power Rankings… [playing] on ESPN’s family of networks from Aug. 24-26, beginning with Joliet Catholic Academy (Joliet, Ill.) playing at Providence Catholic (New Lenox, Ill.).”
Bishop Sycamore very much wanted to enter that arena of lucrative high school football teams, along with the likes of IMG Academy, based in Bradenton, Florida. IMG Academy, by the way, is owned by William Morris Endeavor, the Hollywood entertainment and sports powerhouse. The school attracts top prospects who know that playing at such a prominent school could grease the path to an offer from a major Division 1 NCAA football program (as for WME, ownership of IMG Academy may allow it to get in on the ground floor with budding athletic stars who could one day turn into marquee names in the NFL).
The BS scandal has attracted interest from more than just HBO. Deadline reported last year that Kevin Hart’s HartBeat Productions was “teaming up with youth entertainment company Complex Networks, Klutch Originals and Haven Entertainment on what they say will be the definitive documentary series on one the wildest sports tale of 2021: the story of Bishop Sycamore High School’s football team.”
At the time, Hart said, “As soon as I started following this story, I was immediately drawn to it and knew it was something that myself and my team at HartBeat had to dive into… We understand how to break down stories and capture the most interesting and honest moments in a narrative. We know this con comes with a robust backstory and cannot wait to share it with the world.”