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Jackson State University and Deion Sanders are being sued by organizers of the Southern Heritage Classic after the school backed out of future rivalry games, and the head coach made comments about the Tigers’ 2022 game in Memphis’ Liberty Bowl.
According to the lawsuit, Jackson State has been one of the two teams playing in the Classic for 28 years. The other team is Tennessee State University, and the rivalry brings in well over 40,000 individuals annually to the event.
In 2019, JSU agreed to play in the Classic for five years —September 2020 through September 2024 — and the ower’s of the Classic entered into a similar agreement with TSU to be the opposing team, along with the city of Memphis.
Just weeks ago, Sanders hailed JSU’s decision to back out of the Classic as one driven by the school’s own scheduling desires to find more lucrative opportunities — ones that will be better for the business side of the program and ultimately help lead to opportunities for the athletes.
The lawsuit states that Jackson State sent a termination letter in February advising the Classic the school “has entered into an agreement in which JSU’s will participate in events that conflict with the Southern Heritage Classic Agreement.”
The comments mentioned in the lawsuit are speculated to be Sanders’ comments on the “Pardon My Take” podcast, which he was featured on Feb. 28. Specifically, Sanders discussed the struggles he faces as the head coach at JSU but specifically as it relates to the Classic.
“It’s a hustle,” Sanders said. “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 A.D.s, 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 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 management company said in the lawsuit it asked Jackson State to reconsider its position to terminate from the Classic, and “JSU’s General Counsel declined and its Coach and Athletic Director are telling the world that JSU will not be in the Classic in those years.”
The lawsuit claims that Jackson State is in “breach of the JSU Agreement and owes compensatory damages in an amount to be proved at trial, exceeding $1.8 million per year for each of the two years.”
FootballScoop.com reports the management company said that the event has distributed $6 million apiece to each school’s football team and band through the 31 years of the contest and said the schools would receive a guaranteed payout of $350,000 plus an additional $2 per ticket sold from each school’s individual box office.
“For [the management company] to mitigate damages, it needs to try to find a replacement school,” the lawsuit reads. “That could be a long process and is not at all certain to succeed. And it is unlikely that SMC will find a replacement team equivalent to the fan-drawing power of JSU and a 28-year rivalry.”
The annual classic between JSU and Tennessee State has been played 28 times, with Tennessee State leading the series 17-11.
Check back with OutKick for updates.
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