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Southern Heritage Classic

Jackson State pulls out of Southern Heritage Classic because ‘we’re doing business now’

The Tigers will play conference opponents for the next three seasons instead of Tennessee State

Jackson State coach Deion Sanders says that classic football games among historically Black colleges and universities need to be more financially equitable.

He said that after Jackson State terminated its deal with the Southern Heritage Classic last week, ending its 28-year relationship with the game. It had three years left on its contract.

“These classics aren’t beneficial for us,” Sanders told The Undefeated. “The fans can kick and scream all they want, but they have to understand we’re doing business in the SWAC [Southwestern Athletic Conference].

“Wherever we go to play, we’re the draw. Wherever we go to play, it’s packed. We sell out everywhere. My focus is taking care of my kids and Jackson State.

“I don’t want to go to the game and limp back. Traditionally, the ‘classics’ have been great for the fans, but it needs to be great for the schools.”

JSU says it terminated the agreement because of a scheduling conflict created by the SWAC. Jackson State has a new three-year agreement to play in the SWAC Classic in Birmingham, Alabama.

The termination of the Southern Heritage Classic agreement was revealed last week in a letter circulated by Tennessee State and Summitt Management Corp.

“On or about Nov. 8, 2019, Jackson State University entered into the Southern Heritage Classic agreement with Summitt Management Corporation relating to JSU’s participation in the Southern Heritage Classic,” the letter stated. “Since that time, the Southwestern Athletic Conference, JSU’s governing athletic alliance, has entered into an agreement in which JSU will participate in events that conflict with the Southern Heritage Classic.”

The Tigers will play Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the 2022 SWAC Classic, followed by Southern in 2023 and 2024.

“I was just disappointed to get a letter like this. We faced a lot of things with the classic over the years, but nothing like this,” said Fred Jones, who created the game. “No. 1, you get a letter out of the blue saying we’re terminating this.

“Two, it’s disappointing because the reason why they say they’re terminating has nothing to do with the contract.”

A source said Jackson State has made about $6.3 million from the Southern Heritage Classic in the 28 years of participating in the game. It’s expected to earn about $3 million for its first two games in Birmingham.

“The game we’re playing in Alabama, everything is paid,” said Sanders, “and the check is cut before we even get there. Instead of just playing games, we’re doing business now.”

Tennessee State’s administration was also disappointed that JSU terminated the contract.

“What’s even more disappointing,” Tennessee State president Glenda Glover said in a statement, “is that there was no opportunity for discussion or a courtesy call to the TSU president, director of athletics or head coach before the decision was made to breach the contract, which has three years remaining.”

Jones said he’s determined to serve the Memphis, Tennessee, community by having a game this year, even though it will be difficult to find an opponent in just seven months.

“This situation is difficult because it involves so many people, but we are committed to having a game in 2022. We’re going to find a way.”

Jean-Jacques Taylor is an award-winning journalist who is currently president of JJT Media Group and has covered sports in Dallas-Fort Worth for 31 years.