The organization that runs the Southern Heritage Classic has filed a lawsuit against Jackson State and the SWAC for what it calls “wrongful interference with contractual relations” for breaching its longtime football game contract.
According to the lawsuit filed Monday in a Memphis Chancery Court, Summitt Management Corp. alleged Jackson State and the SWAC worked in concert on an agreement to participate in the newly created SWAC Classic that would be played this fall at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.
The claim also argued that Jackson State would not have decided to pull out of the Southern Heritage Classic against Tennessee State on Feb. 1 if not for the conference’s influence.
Though JSU eventually recanted on not playing in this year’s Southern Heritage Classic, the school announced that it would not participate in the matchup during the 2023 and 2024 seasons.
Summitt Management Corp. has also asked for an injunction to force JSU to play in the 2023 and 2024 games, according to the lawsuit. It also asked for damages upwards of $1.8 million from Jackson State and 5.4 million per year from the SWAC.
The lawsuit stated that JSU head coach Deion Sanders “gave interviews in which he was quoted as saying that the Classic was not profitable for JSU, that JSU could make a lot more money by not playing in the Classic, and that JSU was now “doing business.” The coach was clear that JSU was not playing in the final three years of the JSU Agreement, including 2022, which was consistent with the Termination Letter.”
The Southern Heritage Classic pays each school $350,000 per year to participate in its game, according to the lawsuit.
The claim also stated that SMC “paid JSU fees exceeding $6 million over the years, during many years when JSU was struggling financially.”
“The Classic has become an annual cultural tradition for tens of thousands of people,” the lawsuit said. “They plan for the trip to Memphis every year. It takes years to build up that sort of fan loyalty. JSU’s breach means that virtually all of the JSU fans will cease coming to the Classic. SMC does not expect that any available replacement team will attract that sort of fan following.”