The Jackson State University football Tigers woke up winners Saturday morning, and made the best of a bad situation by celebrating homecoming with a scrimmage and concert at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The official final score: Jackson State 1, Grambling State 0, per NCAA rules. Up until then, doubt had cast a wide pall over the entire homecoming weekend, one of the most anticipated yearly events in the capital city.
In a bizarre turn of events, Grambling State (0-8, 0-5 in SWAC play) forfeited the game when its players did not show up to catch the bus the afternoon of Oct. 18. In lieu of an actual game, JSU players squared off in a scrimmage before an announced crowd of 8,000 fans.
JSU fans were later treated to two free concerts from the Sonic Boom of the South marching band, and later, R&B star Lyfe Jennings. By all accounts, the 8,000 Tiger fans that showed up for the celebrations left happy.
"I am really pleased with the way the day turned out, under the circumstances," JSU head football coach Rick Comegy said in article posted on JSU's website. "We had the chance to rest some players who needed it as well as getting some practice in for some of the guys who would not have normally had the chance to practice."
On the flip side, it was an embarrassing weekend for Grambling State's administration. After promising the game would go forward as late as noon on Friday, no Grambling players were present for the bus trip to Jackson Friday afternoon.
The debacle made headlines all over the country, and by 3 p.m. #GramblingState was trending worldwide on social media website Twitter.
Grambling's players issued a letter Monday morning, in which they pledged to show up to practice and resume playing football for the remainder of the season, but also outlined their complaints to the school's administration.
"Although we are going to continue our season, we have not forgotten the situation and how we've gotten here," senior defensive back and team spokesman Naquan Smith said in a statement.
Among the complaints players outlined in the letter was an athletic complex that is "in horrible condition" with mold and mildew, a weight room that is "falling apart," poorly cleaned uniforms that have led several players to be "infected with staph multiple times."
The players also expressed their displeasure with the administration for busing the team to Indianapolis Ind., and Kansas City, Mo., while school officials flew to those locations, and for rejecting financial contributions unless they were offered to the athletic department or university's general fund.
"The funding can supply Muscle Milk, Gatorade, help house us or even get the complex cleaned and updated," the players wrote in a signed letter to administrators. "All things that are much needed. The funds are rejected by the university, because the organizations that donate the money want to put their money toward a specific cause, not the university or athletics as a whole."
Grambling State pushed back against some of those complaints this morning, releasing information about the laundry products the school uses, an Oct. 7 Louisiana State Department of Health and Hospitals inspector's report regarding the athletic facility and pledging to give the weight room "a $32,000 face-lift within the next two or three weeks."
The state of Louisiana has cut its annual funding for the historically black college from $31.6 million to $13.8 million since the 2007-2008 fiscal year, Sports Illustrated reported last week, and while the athletics department was immune for the first few years, the department had to make concessions this year.
"Losing that money shows up in everything," Grambling State Athletic Director Aaron James told Sports Illustrated writer George Dohrmann. "It shows up in your recruiting budget, in the hotel you stay in, in the food you get. It means you take a bus to games like last weekend (in Indianapolis). We could have spent another $70,000 and taken a charter plane to Indianapolis or we can use that money to help some of the minor sports. Football coaches don't like that, they say they bring in the money and they want to spend it all, but we have to look at the entire athletic department."
The situation first drew national attention Tuesday, when talks between the team and school administrators broke down and the players walked out of a meeting. They refused to practice Wednesday and Thursday before skipping the bus ride to Jackson Friday. Grambling State is scheduled to host Texas Southern at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Jackson State is still in the process of refunding tickets for the game. Ticket-holders can visit the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center on the JSU campus Monday from noon to 6 p.m. and Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Out-of-town fans can visit www.jsutigers.com for instructions on how to mail the tickets back to the athletic department.
Contact City Reporter Tyler Cleveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.