‘The Game Was A Hustle’| Deion Sanders And Jackson State Football Sued By Southern Heritage Classic

Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders and Tennessee State coach Eddie George clashed in the Southern Heritage Classic with a common goal to improve conditions, opportunities for Black student athletes. (Photo: @hbcugameday/FB)

Head coach Deion Sanders and the Jackson State Tigers are back in the news. But this time it isn’t of the good variety, after announcing they were bowing out of the Southern Heritage Classic in February, effectively breaching the remaining three years on their contract with Tennessee State.

Less than two weeks after receiving blowback from the event organizers and Fred Jones, founder of the classic, Jackson State announced it had reached an agreement with the event organizers to play the game in 2022, and then be free to go on their merry way.

But now the Tigers and the SWAC are in deep litigation. The Summit Management Corp., which sponsors the game, is also hoping for an injunction to make JSU fulfill the final two years of the original agreement (2023 and 2024). 

 This comes on the heels of Sanders calling the game “a hustle” via the “Pardon My Take” podcast.

 “It’s a hustle. We’re losing money tremendously,” Sanders insisted. “This particular classic you’re talking about, first of all, why would two colleges need a promoter? Your two colleges have ADs, why would you need a promoter, that’s No.1.?
“Secondly, I think the fee was like over 30 years, $6 million. That’s peanuts. So by the time you take seven buses for four bands, four buses for the players, couple buses for people, assistants, hotel accommodations, food, you’re out of that. That’s $180-200 grand, you’re out of that. So you didn’t make nothing. You really came up 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.”

 Sanders took to Instagram and mentioned the event.

“SMC has paid JSU fees exceeding $6 million over the years, during many years when JSU was struggling financially. Over the years, TSU has won more games than JSU, but JSU has been better in recent years, and stronger financially. In 2021, JSU was nearly undefeated and won the SWAC championship.”

The football teams are responsible for their own travel, meals and lodging. SMC handles the remaining expenses incurred. The $350,000 payout isn’t adequate in the opinion of Sanders and JSU. 

Sanders Adamant About Doing What’s Best For JSU:

Since he became JSU head coach, Sanders has been adamant that he’s going to do whatever is in the best interest of Jackson State University. That means playing games that are meaningful not just from a pageantry and aura standpoint, but also participating in games that provide the revenue needed to keep the program on an upward trajectory and in good standing when it comes to recruiting.

Sanders and JSU obviously believe playing in the Southern Heritage Classic isn’t beneficial beyond 2022.

The SWAC unveiled a new classic, the SWAC Classic, which was set to begin this year having games played at legendary Legion Field, home of many Iron Bowl classics between Alabama and Auburn. The original rumor was JSU would play Arkansas Pine-Bluff in this new event of pageantry with all the bells and whistles. That will have to wait at least a year, and if SMC has its way, it could be three years. In other words, the suit amounts to what is being deemed as “wrongful interference with contractual relations.”

Sanders And JSU Are A Huge Draw: No Replacement School Could Bring That Type Of Visibility, Exposure And Revenue

It’s no secret that Sanders and JSU are the biggest draw in HBCU football and with that you get the raise in visibility, exposure and revenue. Last year’s Southern Heritage Classic returned with a bang following a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19. The announced crowd was over 46,000 for the game and well over 80,000 in the city of Memphis for the weekend. The game wasn’t much of a contest as Coach Prime’s Tigers handled Eddie George’s Tigers pretty easily (38-16).

 But after a season of missing the game, it was an amazing scene to have it back.

 TSU is currently in need of a jolt as they are marred in the fast-dying Ohio Valley Conference. This suit, although not directly filed by TSU, doesn’t bode well for them possibly joining the SWAC.

TSU and the SWAC have had a long-standing disconnect, and it began when they became the first HBCU to join a non-HBCU conference (OVC) in 1988, where they’ve been since.

 It’s the end of an era, no matter if it happens this year or 2024. Since 1990, when the SHC began, it’s been Tennessee State vs Jackson State. The only times it wasn’t was in 1991 when Mississippi Valley State stepped in and 1993 when Grambling State played in it. The TSU version of the Tigers hold the all-time lead at (17-11) in the series.