Jackson St holds homecoming, Grambling forfeits

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 good times were
all around outside of Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on
Saturday morning.

It looked like a typical JSU homecoming celebration, complete
with gorgeous 70-degree weather, a parade and – of course – a
performance by the school’s popular marching band, the Sonic Boom
of the South.

The game 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.”

Grambling spokesman Will Sutton said Saturday that players were
given the weekend off and are scheduled to practice Monday. He says
university officials are meeting this weekend, and are in touch
with several players on the football team, in an effort to try and
reach a resolution to the unusual situation.

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.

Sutton confirmed one of the players’ concerns was about travel.
The team recently took buses to games in Kansas City and
Indianapolis.

”When you have your budget slashed by 57 percent, you have to
make choices,” Sutton said, adding that the school would ”love”
to fly the team on long away games but that Grambling was
contractually obligated to take its band, cheerleaders and dance
team on those trips. He said those obligations led to the difficult
choice to put everyone on buses.

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.

Sutton said the Grambling plans to play its 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.

AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Louisiana contributed to this
report

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