Friends and former NFL colleagues, Jackson State University head football coach Deion Sanders, and Eddie George, the first-year head coach at Tennessee State University, displayed “Classic” sportsmanship after JSU’s 38-16 victory last year at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. At the time, the future of the series appeared bright. Now it’s clear that “something ain’t at right.” (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

In what has turned into an on-and-then-off saga, Jackson State University now is reportedly back in the Memphis-based Southern Heritage Classic – at least for one more year.

“The 2022 Southern Heritage Classic game between JSU and Tennessee State University will be played as originally planned,” JSU asserted by way of a release from the Jackson State Newsroom (jsumsnews.com) on Friday (Feb. 11).

“We are pleased with this conclusion and look forward to bringing the SWAC Championship JSU Tigers back to Memphis in September for one final battle on the gridiron.”

That JSU intends to once again play TSU in a bragging-rights game for Greater Memphis-area fans is good news for many. However, among the troubling elements is the reference to “one final battle.”

Follow the thread of concern back to July 29, 2019. That is when JSU announced that it extended its agreement to play in the Southern Heritage Classic through the 2024 season.

“Jackson State University is very excited to announce our commitment to the Southern Heritage Classic and to continue to play in front of our fans and alums in Memphis,” said JSU Vice President and Director of Athletics, Ashley Robinson, in the July 2019 information posted by Dennis Driscoll, who then was listed as JSU associate athletic director.

“Our student-athletes enjoy the experience of playing in the Liberty Bowl and it adds to the quality student-athlete experience at Jackson State.”

JSU and TSU have played each other continuously in The Classic since 1994. Secure with a contract through 2024, Founder/CEO Fred Jones Jr. moved forward with preparations for the annual crowd-pleasing weekend.

Then, on the evening of Feb. 1, Jones got a letter via electronic mail and the U.S. Postal Service with this header: “Notice of Termination – Southern Heritage Classic Agreement.”

Ten days later came JSU’s brief announcement of its intention to play in the 2022 game. That announcement included this reference:

“Last week, confidential legal correspondence between Jackson State University and Summitt Management Corporation was leaked, which did not reflect the ongoing communication between the parties. We understand how football fans plan to attend games months in advance, and it was never our intent to abruptly cancel participation during the 2022 season.”

TSU President Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover and SHC founder Fred Jones Jr. during a SHC reception in 2018. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

Jones on Friday shared his pleasure that JSU would be playing TSU in the 33rd SHC football game on September 10.

“However, we do wish to set the record straight,” Jones said in a distributed statement. “JSU’s press release incorrectly states that JSU never intended to cancel the 2022 game.

“When JSU’s General Counsel wrote his 2/1/22 letter, he did not state that JSU will play in the 2022 Classic. He did not state that JSU would like to buy its way out of the 2023 and 2024 contract years and was putting us on notice that we need to try to find a replacement team.”

The Feb. 1 letter from JSU’s general counsel was “crystal clear,” said Jones, pointing out the second paragraph, which begins with, “Therefore, this correspondence shall serve as notice of JSU’s termination of its participation in the Southern Heritage Classic and the Agreement between the parties.”

Since receiving that letter, said Jones, “We have had several communications and JSU is now wisely mitigating damages for its breach of contract by honoring its legal commitment to 2022, but the contract has been breached.”

TSU President Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover has labeled JSU’s Feb. 1 announcement that its football team would no longer play in The Classic “an insensitive and irresponsible act that has far-reaching implications and goes beyond football.” On Friday, Glover said she was pleased with “the latest turn of events.”

“The tradition of the Southern Heritage Classic has always been about more than just the football game between TSU and JSU,” Glover said in a prepared statement. “It’s about recruitment and scholarships for talented students for both universities. It’s also about seeing family and friends, and simply having fun.

“The Memphis community prepares well in advance to ensure the success of the Classic and embraces these two outstanding institutions. This includes small and minority-owned businesses, as well as corporate partners.”

Glover concluded that she was “hopeful that all parties involved will speak soon as we move forward and continue the legacy of the Southern Heritage Classic and this historic rivalry.”

(Terry Davis contributed to the reporting of this story.)