The Bradenton Florida football factory has seen much turnover with its coaching staff since the scandal broke in March 2019. The roster also appears to be shrinking...what kind of team will rookie head coach Tim Roken be facing in September?
You have to wonder if IMG Worldwide owned and operated an abortion clinic instead of owning and operating their steroid-infested property, “World's Strongest Man,” would St. Joe's Prep President Rev. John W. Swope have been so quick to allow rookie head football coach Tim Roken and relatively new athletic director Dennis Hart do business with IMG's other property, “IMG Academy?”
The Prep is scheduled to play the scandal-riddled sports factory in football on September 13 at Widener University in Chester. PA. Father Swope and Mr. Hart did not respond to emails asking for comment on this column.
It apparently does not matter to Father Swope that IMG Academy was recently confirmed in a July 1, 2019 Wall Street Journal article as ground zero for what is arguably the worst college admissions scam in American history.
Here is an excerpt from the WSJ article written by Jennifer Levitz:
“The ringleader of the nationwide college admissions cheating scheme, William “Rick” Singer, built a foundation for his operation at IMG Academy by connecting with a crucial partner at the Florida sports boarding school.
“Mr. Singer had a contract to provide college counseling at IMG from about 2003 to 2009, according to a former headmaster, and while at IMG, he employed Mark Riddell, the school confirmed, who later cheated on the SAT and ACT for Mr. Singer’s clients. Since the nationwide admissions scandal broke in March, a key question has been how Mr. Singer, a Newport Beach, Calif., counselor, met Mr. Riddell.
“Mr. Riddell was a college counselor and test-prep coordinator at IMG until March, when
federal prosecutors announced charges against him; he pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.”
The article goes on to say they Riddell and Singer have pleaded guilty to felony charges and are awaiting sentencing.
The Prep, representing the Philadelphia Catholic League, is playing this completely commercial operation in football with no reservations that bringing IMG Academy to the Philadelphia area could damage the reputation of the iconic sports league that dates back to the 1930s.
IMG has owned “World's Strongest Man,” a made-for-TV competition that for over 40 years has unapologetically promoted steroid use on the show despite dozens of competitor deaths and despite being condemned by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives via resolutions twice (2014 & 2016) for the show's lack of testing for steroids, rampant steroid use and high fatality rate.
A third resolution condemning IMG and other steroid events is in the works, this time by the Pennsylvania State Senate.
Apparently none of this means a thing to Father Swope, his athletic director and head football coach. They are going ahead with this game.
The Prep is playing IMG Academy in football despite push back from the Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese Athletic Director Stephen Haug and other Catholic League officials and alumni.
Roken appears to want to separate himself from the man he assisted for the last several years, Gabe Infante, who took an assistant football coaching job at Temple after the 2018 season.
Infante's teams won four of the last six PIAA State Championships and are now considered a national football program.
IMG Academy football was created in 2012 with the sole purpose of competing as a national program “We run a business,” said Chip McCarthy, a co-managing director of IMG Academy in a 2015 article in the New York Times. “We call it sales and marketing. Some people call it recruiting. We’re promoting our program.”
IMG Academy raids existing, legitimate high school athletic programs, usually after the player's freshman or sophomore season, after the player has emerged as a top talent.
There are players over the last few years, who after their sophomore season, already had scholarship offers from the elite of college football programs.
In this case, IMG Academy would need the player more than the player needed IMG Academy. IMG Academy needs elite players to hype up its recruiting process.
Why would the parents a talented sophomore player pull their son out of his neighborhood high school, his friends and teammates?
A few plane rides? A manicured home field to play on? Or is it more likely the student-athlete was struggling in the classroom, perhaps producing poor PSAT scores.
A Power 5 scholarship and possible pro football career might be on the line. Failing academically could ruin those dreams.
Enter Riddell and Singer...problem solved, right?
As of press time, there has been no evidence presented that Riddell took SAT exams for IMG Academy athletes. But several reports claim further indictments against Riddell and Singer could be forthcoming. Riddell's sentencing is scheduled for November, 2019.
Since the scandal became national news, there appears to be serious turnover with the football program, at least according to the IMG Academy website. It appears IMG Academy does not post the actual rosters for its football teams, just coaches.
IMG Academy assistant football coach Adam Behrends appears to have resigned over the scandal in May. He was quarterbacks coach in Bradenton since 2010. According to reporters near the Connecticut area public school where Behrends surfaced in mid May as head coach, the job came up suddenly after the current head coach was unable to make the commute to run the team.
Those reporters said a friend of Behrends alerted him of the opening, which he took immediately, saying his goodbyes to other IMG Academy coaches on Twitter on or about May 30.
According to info on the IMG Academy Website, Defensive coordinators Brett Maxie and Jeff Pond were just hired in 2019 as were Seth Strickland (QB coach) and Kyle Brey (Head Coach White team).
Just hired in 2018 were offensive coordinator Josiah Sears and Football Director Jamie Speronis. Kevin Wright is still listed as the main team's head coach and has had the job since 2015.
According to MaxPreps.com, IMG Academy's football roster appears to have recently shrunk. It does show that several of the main team's top players are still on the roster.
IMG has not responded to emails requesting information on its roster numbers (not names).
With so much turnover within its coaching ranks, and the possible loss of players (The IMG rosters on MaxPreps have changed and moved over the last few weeks), what kind of victory can Rokens claim if his team wins?
Is beating a scandal-riddled program that appears to be in trouble really mean anything?
There is a much more important question for Father Swope, even more so than the admissions scandal.
Does Father Swope have concerns, or does he care, that by doing business with IMG he is normalizing IMG's behavior towards steroid use that sends a message to students at the Prep and throughout the Delaware Valley that steroid use is OK as long as it is profitable? *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii