JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Grambling’s decision not to travel to Jackson State for Saturday’s football game did not stop the homecoming festivities on the Mississippi campus.
The music was blaring, the barbecue roasting and there were good times all around outside of Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. It looked like a typical JSU homecoming celebration, complete with 70-degree weather, a parade and — of course — a performance by the school’s popular marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South.
There was everything except a football game.
The contest between Grambling (0-8) and Jackson State (6-2) was canceled and declared a forfeit on Friday after disgruntled Grambling players refused to travel from their Louisiana campus because of issues they have with leaders of the athletic department and the university.
“It’s not the way I really like to win, but I’ll take it,” Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said on Saturday. “I feel sorry for our kids, the seniors, who are playing their last homecoming game, not having the opportunity to have their families enjoy it like in the past.”
A person familiar with the situation said Saturday that Grambling players were given the weekend off and the administration hopes more meetings can be arranged early next week so an agreement can be reached. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the university did not announce any updates on Saturday.
Grambling’s entire athletic program has struggled amid budget cuts and scholarship reductions. The football team recently traveled by bus to recent games in Kansas City and Indianapolis and the men’s basketball team was 0-28 last season.
The football team has been through two coaching changes this season. Doug Williams was fired after just two games and interim coach George Ragsdale was replaced by Dennis “Dirt” Winston on Thursday.
Grambling football players reportedly walked out of a contentious meeting with administration on Tuesday because of differences on how the program should be run. Players skipped practice on Wednesday and Thursday and then didn’t make the 2 1/2-hour trip to Jackson on Friday.
Southwestern Athletic Conference Commissioner Duer Sharp said the situation was unusual, and to his knowledge, a first for the conference. He said Grambling would be fined, according to league rules.
Grambling has a scheduled home game next Saturday against Texas Southern. It is the school’s annual High School Day, which draws in many prospective students from around the region.
With the forfeit to Jackson State, Grambling has now lost 18 straight games against NCAA opponents.
Some Jackson State fans at homecoming supported Grambling’s players.
“I give them some respect for taking a stand and they’ve got to handle their business,” Jackson State fan Mario Williams said. “But they’ve got to understand it’s disappointed a lot of people.”
Other fans weren’t so sympathetic.
“It’s a bunch of bull,” said Edward Davis, a 1977 Jackson State graduate. “You don’t just decide when you’re going to play a football game. This affects a lot of people from both schools. There are people who are losing money. There are people who planned vacations for this — people who travel a long way.”
Larry Green was one of those travelers, making his yearly 3-hour trip from Memphis, Tenn. The 1980 Jackson State graduate was helping friends cook on the grill outside of his tent.
“We were already here when we found out the game was canceled,” Green said. “We’ll have fun no matter what, but it’s very disappointing for everyone. The football game’s a big part of homecoming.
“It’s got to be hurting a lot of people financially.”
It’s been a logistical nightmare for Jackson State, which usually draws at least 20,000 fans to homecoming. The school decided to have a short scrimmage at the stadium that fans could attend for free, while working on refunds for those who had already bought tickets.
Jackson State’s athletic budget is around $6 million and the school relies heavily on football revenue.