Jackson State and Tennessee State will meet Saturday for what could be the last time in the storied rivalry.
The annual Southern Heritage Classic — played for nearly 30 years in Memphis at the Liberty Bowl — will not continue beyond this season after Jackson State indicated that it will not participate over the contractually obligated two years remaining on the deal.
JSU head coach Deion Sanders on Monday reiterated that the program’s association with the Southern Heritage Classic was no longer “beneficial” despite action by the Summitt Management Corporation – which manages the Southern Heritage Classic – filing a lawsuit against Jackson State in February for claiming the school breached its contract.
“As far as the business aspect of that, that’s not beneficial to us, it’s not suitable to us,” said Sanders. “We love the Classic, it’s a wonderful Classic. We just don’t want to play it. It’s a great Classic, I think they do a wonderful job. We just choose not to take place in it anymore.”
The coach explained that he and the team will be more concerned about preparing for Tennessee State than the events surrounding the Southern Heritage Classic’s future.
“We’re there to play football,” he said. “I don’t know how this could be awkward when you come to play football. The purpose is to play football and that’s what we’re coming to play.”
The schools have met 28 times since 1990, with Tennessee State leading the all-time series 17-11. Jackson State beat Tennessee State 38-16 in 2021.
Tennessee State head coach Eddie George in the offseason said he embraced the Classic and understands what it means to both programs and Memphis.
“I don’t know how it looks like from the business side as far as the continuation of the Classic,” George told The Daily Memphian. “I know from the Jackson State side they wanted a different type of business structure, and they have a right to do that. So we’re open to what happens in the future, but this possibly being our last chance of playing Jackson State for the foreseeable future, we want to make it a memorable one.
“We understand the magnitude of it,” he said. “What it means for our fan base. What it means for our program. What it means for the history of the rivalry. Tennessee State and our kids are well-educated on those facts and how it began and just the lineage to be able to play in that game.”