The organizer of the Southern Heritage Classic is suing Jackson State University for trying to quit the annual football game two years before its contract with the event is up.
The Southern Heritage Classic is one of several HBCU football games to have carried the “classic” moniker; some serve as unofficial bowl games for the schools. But unlike the bowl games that feature larger FBS schools and determine the NCAA football national championship, participation in the classics don’t bring seven-figure paydays and prime-time media slots to the schools that play in them.
In this case, Jackson State is under contract with Summit Management Corp., the Heritage Classic’s organizer, to play Tennessee State at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium through 2024, according to the lawsuit. But in a Feb. 1 letter, Jackson State notified SMC that it intended to terminate its participation in order to participate in a different event.
From the lawsuit:
JSU’s breach of contract means that SMC must find a replacement team for 2023 and 2024, and its ability to do so is not at all certain. The Classic is a joyful 28-year rivalry. JSU’s Coach explained that at the present time, JSU is the big attraction, that JSU’s participation alone brings 40,000 fans to their games. The Coach’s boasts prove that JSU’s breach will cause great damage.
After winning the most recent game by a score of 38-16 in front of 46,171 fans in September, Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders said the school needed to change course.
From Sports Illustrated
“It’s a hustle,” Sanders said on the Pardon My Take podcast, when asked about the event, though Sanders did not specifically name the Classic. “We’re losing money, tremendously. This particular classic that you’re talking about, first of all, why would two colleges need a promoter? You’re two colleges and you have ADs, why would you need a promoter, that’s No. 1.
“Secondly, I think the fee was like over 30 years, $6 million,” Sanders continued. “That’s peanuts. So by the time you take seven buses for the band, four buses for the players, couple (buses) for people, assistants, hotel accommodations, food, you’re out of that. That $180-200 grand, you’re out of that. So you didn’t make nothing. You really came up there on a blank trip. We gotta stop that foolishness. The first thing we need to take care of as HBCUs is the business aspect of everything, and that’s something we’re changing right now. We’re taking care of business.”
The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages and for an injunction to force JSU to fulfill the contract to play in the game through 2024. A Jackson State spokesperson told The Root that the university had no comment on the lawsuit.
Sanders, an inductee to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame one of the most famous athletes of his era was named head coach of the Jackson State football program in September 2020. He’s part of a wave of Black athletes and coaches at the professional level who have gone back to lead HBCU football programs in recent years.
Hue Jackson, a former head coach of the Cleveland Browns and an assistant in other NFL programs, was hired in December as head coach of Grambling State University’s football team. Tennessee State University hired NFL Hall of Famer Eddie George last April.