Without a heads-up, Jackson State University has pulled out of its Southern Heritage Classic agreement. SHC founder Fred Jones Jr., shown here at the 2018 Coaches Luncheon, said, "We have managed to survive and thrive every time we’ve been confronted with something that is considered negative. And I think we will move forward behind this." (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/TSD Archives)

Southern Heritage Classic Founder Fred Jones Jr. said he had no inkling that Jackson State University planned to pull out of the annual fall event until he received a letter Tuesday evening.

“We have a contract. They clearly have breached the contract,” Jones told The New Tri-State Defender about 24 hours later. 

The letter Jones referenced was via electronic mail and the U.S. Postal Service. It foreshadowed its essence with this line: “Notice of Termination – Southern Heritage Classic Agreement.”

The two-paragraph letter notes that Jackson State University (JSU) entered into the agreement with Jones’ Summit Management Corporation on or about November 8, 2019.

“Since that time the Southwestern Athletic Conference, JSU’s governing athletic conference, has entered into an agreement in which (JSU) will participate in events that conflict with the Southern Heritage Classic Agreement. Said conflict prevents JSU’s participation in the Southern Heritage Classic.”

The letter from Edward O. Watson, general counsel, states that it serves as notice of termination of the agreement and includes this line: “We thank you for your attention to this matter.”

Jones said the next step will be a response back to JSU’s attorney. 

“We will see where it goes from there. They are very clear. We are very clear that they are in complete breach of the contract.”

Jackson State University coach Deion Sanders and his team of Tigers celebrate with fans after a 38-16 win over Tennessee State University in the 32nd Southern Heritage Classic. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/TSD Archives)

For years, The Classic has pitted JSU’s Tigers against the Tigers of Tennessee State University. TSU President Dr. Glenda Glover said JSU’s announcement that their football team will no longer play in the Southern Heritage Classic is “an insensitive and irresponsible act that has far-reaching implications and goes beyond football. The Classic is about more than TSU, JSU, our alumni and fans.”

TSU President Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover while attending a Southern Heritage Classic Weekend event. (TSD Archives)

Via a distributed response, Glover said, “The Memphis business community, including small Black-owned businesses, many of which are mom and pop businesses, will suffer incalculable damage. These businesses rely on contracts that are generated as a result of activities associated with the game and purchase supplies and other items in preparation for this annual event.”

According to Glover, What’s even more disappointing 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. TSU found out from a national scheduler.”

Jones said The Classic would “be fine.”

“Usually when there is a breach of the contract there are clauses in the contract that are breached. We didn’t breach the contract. I don’t what else to say or what I can say. We have been very straightforward.

“We have worked very hard at producing something that Memphis, the schools, the alumni, the fans, everybody is proud of. It just boils down to that they made a decision that was not in everybody’s best interest.”

Jones and The Classic have dealt with multiple challenges beyond the norm of what it takes to successfully host such an event in recent years, including a lightning-packed storm that forced a cancellation and a COVID-19 forced cancellation.

“The Classic has been a very tough cookie,” said Jones.

“We have managed to survive and thrive every time we’ve been confronted with something that is considered negative. And I think we will move forward behind this.

“It’s a tough one. You’re seven months before the event and you’ve got to figure out who is going to play in the game. We’ve never had to be confronted with something like that.”