Update … In response to Chris, who would like to see Jackson State move to Conference USA … Yes, I think that is a great idea, particularly from an attendance standpoint. JSU already outdraws many C-USA schools and, no doubt, would get bigger and bigger crowds in a Division I setting.
However, I think moving to C-USA straight from the SWAC likely isn’t to happen … First, C-USA has got to want that to happen. I suspect a move to legitimate I-AA conference needs to happen first. Maybe even going to I-AA as an independent with the intention of eventually moving to I-A.
Either way, I don’t think a Division I conference like C-USA is out of the question down the line …
Raucous crowds in Jackson’s Memorial Stadium are the norm for a Jackson State football game, but even those crowds have dwindled in the last 10 to 15 years.
That would change if JSU would pull out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
As the SWAC’s overall ability to lure top-notch African American athletes has waned 40 years after college athletics were integrated, Jackson State’s loyalty to the HBCU conference has held it back.
The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum recently held a round-table discussion on “The Future of the SWAC” at which league officials were nowhere to be found.
“Amidst dwindling budgets, shrinking attendance, crumbling facilities and talk of school closure and consolidation, the future of the Southwestern Athletic Conference has rarely been more uncertain,” pre-discussion press releases screamed.
Unfortunately, the once-mighty SWAC is a failing business.
The Tiger athletic program, meanwhile, has been relegated to a near irrelevant status, considering the SWAC is completely irrelevant in serious conversation.
In Division I-AA, or the Football Championship Series as the NCAA calls it, no member of the SWAC is even talked about when it comes to championship play. The SWAC doesn’t participate in postseason playoffs in football, so that it can participate in an irrelevant SWAC championship game, which is cooked up to make money for the SWAC to keep the conference financially solvent, which it barely is to begin with.
Jackson State, in a market that can sustain a serious contender at the I-AA level, should jump ship and join a viable, competitive league.
The Southland Conference, the Southern Conference and the Ohio Valley Conference all offer opportunities for Jackson State that wouldn’t require much, if any, more travel costs, and would give the Tigers’ athletics programs more visibility on a national level.
As for the SWAC, it has been a dying conference for more than 20 years as programs like JSU and Southern University of Baton Rouge have continued to prop up the smaller-market schools, like Mississippi Valley and Alcorn State.
MVSU and ASU, as well as others — like Prairie View (Texas) and, to a certain extent, Grambling (La.) — haven’t been quality I-AA athletic programs for a long time and should move to Division II or III, even to the NAIA.
Jackson State, meanwhile, should look out for itself, lose the SWAC and look forward to higher attendance than it already enjoys. More attractive, nationally-relevant opponents like powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in the Southern Conference or Stephen F. Austin and Texas State of the Southland Conference would be better.
If Jackson State wants to continue to play its in-state rivals, play them as non-conference games.
In an era where college athletics is big business, Jackson State is part of failing corporation for which there is no bailout coming.
Jackson State should save itself, because the longer it stays in the SWAC, the more irrelevant and unmarketable it will become.
It’s about business.
Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1018.