ESPN Resurrects the Ghost of Plainfield Teachers College

(AP Photo/David Kohl, File)

In 1941, before Pearl Harbor, when the United States was far more preoccupied with college football than goings-on across either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, the Plainfield Teachers College Lions rolled through their season, lead by sophomore halfback Johnny Chung, who was being bandied about as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Regrettably, with but two games left in the season, the Plainfield Teachers College Lions were stopped by two opponents even they could not overcome. The first was mid-term exams which saw the majority of the team’s players flunk out.

The second was the minor detail that there was no Plainfield Teachers College. The entire story was concocted by three friends, two of them Wall Street denizens and the third in the broadcast business. They dutifully phoned in the scores to major newspapers each Saturday, embellishing the story as they went along, until one or more spoilsports blew the whistle. Thus, the Lions team colors of mauve and puce were forever retired.

Fast forward eighty years. Surely in this era of instant information and immense databases, such a hoax could not possibly be perpetrated on any media outlet, be it international or local. Could it? I mean, the media itself making things up, sure. But a third party pulling a massive fast one? Impossible!

Or not.

ESPN, when it’s not too busy embarrassing itself with its inability to handle employee squabbles, occasionally interrupts its regularly scheduled programming consisting of its employees yelling past each other about whatever may or may not be happening in sports by showing, believe it or not, actual sporting events. Included in this mix is high school football. Setting aside the suspicion this is so cable networks in Texas and Florida don’t drop the network due to its plummeting ratings, this past weekend the network broadcast seven games across various channels. The final game broadcast was this past Sunday, featuring Florida’s IMG Academy taking on Ohio’s Bishop Sycamore. ESPN’s press release about the weekend breathlessly touted both programs, IMG Academy “reload(ing) as one of the top teams in the country, with an incredible 20 players ranked in the ESPN 300 and ESPN Junior 300 player rankings” and Bishop Sycamore “a new program with young talent and several players on both sides of the ball have multiple Division 1 offers.” Okay, the table was set …

… for more red flags to be raised than at a NASCAR restrictor-plate race.

Ben Koo at Awful Announcing has done an excellent job digging through the scenario that led to the game, a 58-0 shellacking by IMG Academy, being a far worse debacle than even such a score indicates. For one thing, it was Bishop Sycamore’s second game in three days. An already undermanned roster of maybe thirty to thirty-five players was spread even thinner by injuries suffered during the game, including one to starting quarterback Trillian Harris. Not only was Bishop Sycamore undermanned, it was under-equipped; as the Awful Announcing story notes:

(I)t looked like Bishop Sycamore had mismatched helmets and potentially not enough helmets for the entire team. That’s despite the roster being reported to be very small: just 30-35 players, hence the two-way participation.

And it gets worse. The team’s head coach is up on fraud charges. And, it is entirely possible the school doesn’t exist at all:

Bishop Sycamore’s existence as an actual school has been called into question many times over. If it does, it’s as a new online charter school at most. The school is not recognized by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and their physical location, practice facilities, and roster eligibility could not be verified.

Many people have pointed out that Bishop Sycamore plays a lot of postgraduate players. Some have actually played in JUCO games and are a few years older than most high school athletes.

Yet somehow, this game made it to ESPN.

ESPN is, of course, blaming someone else, namely Paragon Marketing Group who booked all the games broadcast this past weekend. Paragon admits it could have done better:

I spoke with Paragon president Rashid Ghazi last night. Ghazi said that they would have cancelled the game had they had known that the same kids played earlier in the weekend, and they had held out hope that Bishop Sycamore perhaps fielded two teams with a split-squad approach to the two contests.

Unfortunately that’s not true. Both games are available online. Bishop Sycamore had the same starting quarterback both games, and frequently had players with the same numbers in the same alignments in both games. Coach Roy Johnson admitted as much this afternoon in an interview.

Oops.

In a world of turmoil and seemingly omnipresent depressing news, it’s good to know that ESPN is still serving up the laughs. Unfortunately for them, they’re at its own expense.