Despite Deion Sanders‘ departure from Jackson State in December 2022, the Tigers continue to endure the financial repercussions of a decision influenced by the now-head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Per a report by the Clarion Ledger, Jackson State had to pay $800,000 to settle a lawsuit with Summitt Management Corporation. The lawsuit was filed in 2022 after the Tigers backed out of the two-year contract to play Tennessee State University in the famed Southern Heritage Classic.

Jackson State and Summitt Management Corporation agreed to a five-year deal around September 10, 2019, for the football team to participate in the Southern Heritage Classic. However, in February 2022, Jackson State announced that it would not partake in the Southern Heritage Classic in 2023 and 2024. The lawsuit was resolved on or about October 31, 2022, almost two years after news of the settlement first emerged.

The decision to depart the Southern Heritage Classic, a staple event on the calendar for Jackson State, was spearheaded by Deion Sanders. Sanders believed that HBCU classics aren't financially equitable and pushed for Jackson State to back out in 2022.

Sanders told Andscape at the time, “These classics aren’t beneficial for us. The fans can kick and scream all they want, but they have to understand we’re doing business in the SWAC [Southwestern Athletic Conference]. Wherever we go to play, we’re the draw. Wherever we go to play, it’s packed. We sell out everywhere. My focus is taking care of my kids and Jackson State. I don’t want to go to the game and limp back. Traditionally, the ‘classics’ have been great for the fans, but it needs to be great for the schools.”

Despite Sanders's displeasure at the set up of the Southern Heritage Classic, Jackson State athletics said that the decision to terminate the contract was due to a scheduling conflict created by the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference) who were said to have established a “SWAC Classic” in Birmingham, Alabama that Jackson State signed a three-year agreement to appear in.

Jackson State sent a letter to Summitt management company, saying, “On or about Nov. 8, 2019, Jackson State University entered into the Southern Heritage Classic agreement with Summitt Management Corporation relating to JSU’s participation in the Southern Heritage Classic. Since that time, the Southwestern Athletic Conference, JSU’s governing athletic alliance, has entered into an agreement in which JSU will participate in events that conflict with the Southern Heritage Classic.”

Jackson State last competed in the Southern Heritage Classic in 2022, winning 16-3 over Eddie George's Tennesse State squad. Tennessee State played the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 2023 and is scheduled to face the Lions again in 2024.

Meanwhile, the SWAC Classic has yet to occur in the two years since Jackson State's departure from the Southern Heritage Classic. It appears that Jackson State was scheduled to play in the Classic game, announced in 2021, against the University of Arkansas At Pine Bluff in 2022 and historic rival Southern University in 2023. The matchup against the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was canceled. The game against Southern, however, was postponed and subsequently moved to Southern's home stadium A.W. Mumford Stadium. The contract between the SWAC and the city of Birmingham for the SWAC Classic expires in 2024, marking the final plausible occurrence of the game.

The business of college sports can often be complex.  From conference realignments to scheduling conflicts, there are many factors that can impact the success of a team or an event. The fallout from the Southern Heritage Classic settlement as well as developments from the SWAC Classic should be of interest to HBCU football fans as the Fall approaches.