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SWAC seeks to find resolve in GSU-Jackson State fallout

28th October 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Nikki G. Bannister
Contributing Writer

Grambling State University’s football team boycott of Jackson State’s October 19 homecoming game was deemed “unprecedented” by Southwestern Athletic Conf­erence Com­mis­sioner Duer Sharp. But Jack­son State Univ­er­sity officials call the boycott a financial loss and look to seek litigation to recoup losses from the game, which JSU won by forfeit.

Duer was in the middle of a Grambling State campus visit on October 21 when he addressed the team’s boycott and Jackson State’s intentions. He said the NCAA usually allows conferences to handle their issues internally, so SWAC officials will address Grambling State players’ issues and hopefully find a resolution between the two schools.

“In the conference office, we’re going to do our jobs to help the schools and wherever we can go to lend support, that’s what we’re going to do,” Sharp said. “I’ve been in contact and talking with the leadership at Jackson State and I think what’s going to possibly take place is that there is going to be some discussion amongst the two institutions to see if some type of resolution can be made moving forward.”

When Grambling State’s players refused to play because of poor facilities, coaching changes and unsuitable conditions, the no-show in Jackson, Miss. for their conference rivals’ homecoming game resulted in no dough for Jackson State or the city.

Jackson State’s administration released a statement on October 22 and announced losses could be in the millions because of the Grambling State’s football team decision to boycott the game. Eric Stringfellow, executive director of university communications, said in the statement the school “intends to use litigation to be made whole” for direct and indirect losses.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to Mississippi taxpayers and the JSU community to mitigate our ongoing and substantial losses. Jackson State plans to pursue litigation against Grambling State and others,” Stringfellow said in the statement. “Grambling’s issues are well documented and long standing. Those issues, however, are not JSU’s issues nor are these JSU’s responsibility.”

Grambling State’s “issues” include a 57 percent budget cut which considerably reduced the school’s athletic program spending. Grambling State’s total operating budget is $13.8 million for the 2013-2014 academic year, with $6.8 million of that budget allocated for the athletic program. $335,000 of the athletic budget was shaved this academic year.

“We did everything we could to avoid the situation (on Saturday) and because we’re an institution of higher learning with responsibilities to the students, and a system and the state, and the NCAA, we understand exactly where they are,” said Will Sutton, director of public relations and communications at Grambling State. “So none of this is surprising to us that they would consider the possibility of litigation, which is what they said.”

Sutton said if or when Jackson State did decide to file, Grambling State would take note and respond accordingly.

“Obviously, we’re down and we’re trying to rebound and we’re in touch with them (Jackson State) and in touch with the conference and reviewing all types of things right now,” he said.

Stringfellow said in an October 23 telephone interview the university did not want its stance to appear as petty, because though they are sister schools, the games are still a business.

“That’s a separate issue to play football,” he said. “They basically broke a commitment to play football. It’s not unsympathetic. What about the sympathy to our athletes because we have a hole in our budget, because of a game that didn’t happen?”

Stringfellow did not say how big of a hole was made in the budget. But he did write in his statement that Grambling State repeatedly assured Jackson State on Friday, October 18, that the team would travel. Stringfellow wrote though the university dealt in good faith with Grambling State and the SWAC, the actions of both have hurt the school.

“When something like this happens I just think you want to be thorough and I think the discussions need to be very in depth,” Duer said. “And make sure everyone leaves that discussion satisfied with the outcome.”

Duer also reiterated the conference had not levied any fines or sanctions on the financially strapped Grambling State team, despite earlier media reports.

“We haven’t fined anyone yet. I’ve been in contact and talking with the leadership at Jackson State and I think what’s going to possibly take place is that there is going to be some discussion amongst the two institutions to see if some type of resolution can be made,” Sharp said. “In our bylaws, there are fines and there are penalties for not playing a conference game and then they’re also the arrangements that leave a fine or penalty up to my discretion.”

Stringfellow said Wednesday and in his statement Jackson State officials had not heard from the SWAC. Alumni throughout the 10-member conference have resonated sentiments of support for both sides. However, while some Jackson State alumni are seeking refunds from ticket sales, others are allowing the school to keep the monies in a show of solidarity.

Terry Scott, New Orleans chapter vice president of the Jackson State University National Alumni Association, says he initially disagreed with the actions of the Grambling State players when he heard what happened. He went to his alma mater for the game and instead of watching two conference rivals battle at Home­coming, he watched a Blue and White scrimmage and attended other last-minute events held by Jackson State.

“My initial thought was ‘you came to Grambling to play football. You selected Gram­bling or they invited you to come, but you made the decision to play. Come hell or high water, you’re supposed to support your school and play with your school,’” Scott said. “From a JSU standpoint, we were a big loser in that. I support Jackson State doing whatever could be done to fix this problem. I believe the athletic director should have gotten the SWAC commissioner involved a long time ago. So we lost out a lot. People actually left the city. But we still had a great time.”

This article originally published in the October 28, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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