The Tennessee State Tigers are in search of a new conference, as their current one, the Ohio Valley Conference, will enter the 2022 season with just six football participants.
Tennessee State, Eastern Illinois, Tennessee Tech, Murray State, UT-Martin, and Southeast Missouri are all that remain in the OVC. In the past two years, the conference lost football schools Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State, and Austin Peay, who all left the conference for greener pastures. Austin Peay wanted out so badly they paid the $1 million exit fee, as private donors ensured they had the money to leave the OVC.
"It's a big deal. I go down in history, so I appreciate it. I appreciate the Black College Football Hall of Fame for putting this together for us, and I just hope my career can go from here." – @ghick19 https://t.co/XY4A0xpsCw
— Tennessee State Football (@TSUTigersFB) February 20, 2022
That has made the Tigers and head football coach Eddie George question the direction of the conference they’ve played in since 1986. The former Pro Bowl running back says TSU is looking for stability and a new conference to call home.
In an interview on the “1StarRecruits” podcast George addressed the diminishing situation within the conference. His friendship with Deion Sanders runs deep, and watching his friend elevate the JSU program and the SWAC has been inspiring and motivating.
“We’re going into a different time and age. For us now — obviously — with Tennessee State, we are seeking to go to a new conference that has more stability. The OVC — it’s a dying conference at this point in time. But, we can continue to stay hopeful that OVC leadership will pick and continue to add teams. But at some point, we’re going to have to take into account our future and do what’s best for Tennessee State.”
Tennessee State University QB Geremy Hickbottom, HBCU Legacy Bowl Offensive MVP acceptance Interview on NFL Network pic.twitter.com/Wj7xSWrpiz
— HBCU Premier Sports & News (@HBCUSports1) February 20, 2022
Tennessee State was the first FCS HBCU to join a non-HBCU conference, until in the last few years, when Hampton and North Carolina A&T both left the MEAC for the Big South and are now headed to the CAA. This isn’t the first time the Tigers have considered departing the OVC. The school came really close to joining the SWAC in 2006.
Tigers Almost Joined SWAC: Maybe They Should’ve
In 2006, Tennessee State was very close to joining the SWAC. Then-athletics director Teresa Phillips (2003-2019) was considering the move. Questions about the stadium structure arose, as did another problem, lack of resources.
The Tigers decided against the move, and instead of upgrading their on-campus stadium, they’ve played a handful of home games at the home of the Tennessee Titans ever since. Phillips and the school decided against the move because it would’ve been good for football to stay in the OVC for geographic reasons and familiarity.
— Kēnan Smith (@Keno_S_) February 19, 2022
SWAC Is On Top
With the SWAC currently booming since the arrival of Deion Sanders at Jackson State in 2020 and Bethune-Cookman and FAMU becoming a full-time conference members in 2021, things are looking up for the conference.
Adding someone as charismatic as Sanders and powerhouse MEAC programs to the conference only enhances the visibility and exposure for the entire SWAC. That’s something the Tennessee State Tigers aren’t getting with teams constantly on the move from the OVC. That never bodes well for a conference.
Now Tennessee State is searching for something like the SWAC, where the rivalries are unmatched in Black college football. You combine that with the newfound exposure, uptick in competition and all the bells and whistles, you have a can’t-miss product.
Following the move to the SWAC, FAMU head coach Willie Simmons had this to say about his team.
“I think football is football. I think the thing that they’ll be excited about the pageantry — going to the different venues, seeing the tailgating, the bands.”
George Addressed Southern Heritage Bowl Situation: JSU Was Out And Then Back In
A few weeks ago, the Jackson State Tigers suddenly backed out of the Southern Heritage Classic. Then a few days later they opted back in, making the 2022 classic their last one for the foreseeable future. JSU basically breached their contract to play the classic through 2024. George says the schools and he and Deion Sanders have come to a sort of happy medium.
“This arrangement has been in existence before we got here,” George told reporters. “He has a unique vision for where he wants JSU to go, and so do I. And I get it. I’m a businessman. And when you look at the impact he’s had from an attendance standpoint, you want to have transparency with where every dollar goes and make sure it’s going to the right people at the right time. So, I completely understand what he’s talking about. And for the foreseeable future, it might be the best thing for this thing to take a pause and let it flush out and restructure the deal in a unique way.
“We can always create opportunities down the line, when the infrastructure is right. So, after this year, I think it stops and we’ll try to reconvene this opportunity in this great tradition, this great matchup, down the line.”
@TSUTigersFB coach Eddie George stood in with the @1starrecruits today to talk about his new coaching life at Tennessee State, the best ways to invest in a child’s future & even his 5 Star Valentine’s Day gifts! Our interview with @EddieGeorge2727 is here! https://t.co/eejHTFku1X pic.twitter.com/h2RIp7qAuI
— 1 Star Recruits Podcast (@1starrecruits) February 16, 2022
Losing a rivalry like that with JSU doesn’t help Tennessee State at all. It only adds to the headache of being a part of a dying conference.
It’s clear that the Tigers need to move, but the question is to where?