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Deion Sanders and the SWAC make a perfect marriage
Published Friday, October 16, 2020
by Bonitta Best

I tried to blow off Deion Sanders’ much ballyhooed hiring at Jackson State. After all, he’s not the first former professional player to coach at an HBCU, and while there have been some successes, there have been flops as well.

For every Doug Williams at Grambling State or Sam Washington at North Carolina A&T success stories, you have Doug Overton at Lincoln (Pa.) or – yes, I must say it again – Robert Brickey at Shaw. Terrible, terrible hires.

Think SWAC coaches aren’t getting sick of “Prime Time” and his, well, prime time exposure? They read the same newspapers or social media accounts, and watch the same sports shows that we do. And they have egos, too.

Sure, Sanders is good for the conference – and maybe HBCUs in general – but for the other coaches, that feel-good party is going to get old and tired real soon.

For Jackson State, however, the good times are rockin’ and rollin’. Sanders just snagged a three-star recruit in defensive tackle Braezhon Ross from Las Vegas. Ross announced on Twitter that he was “110%” to the Tigers. He reportedly chose JSU over Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado.

Ross joins another highly rated high schooler, defensive lineman Jeremiah Williams; Jammie White, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer defensive end; and Mississippi State transfer cornerback Javorrius Selmon to JSU since Sanders was hired barely a month ago.

Sanders’ presence has also upped JSU athletics’ marketing value. According to the university, the value increased by an estimated $19 million in nine days after Sanders came aboard.

“Prime Time” had endorsement deals with Subway and Under Armour when he arrived. Reportedly he’s in discussions on a reality TV show following him on campus.

In addition to the money, the athletics department finished first among non-FBS programs in social media engagement for the month of September. JSU beat out such FBS programs as Duke, Florida State, South Carolina and Kansas.

“Neon Deon” couldn’t have chosen a better setup in the SWAC. The conference has led the NCAA in FCS football attendance 42 of the past 43 seasons, with JSU at the top of that food chain. Mind you, the Tigers haven’t had a winning season since 2013. They did finish 5-5 in 2018.

"This further proves that we have the best fan base in Mississippi and across the country," said JSU Director of Athletics Ashley Robinson. "In Mississippi, it's often discussed that there is the Big 3. When mentioning the Big 3, Jackson State rightfully belongs in that discussion." 

While Sanders is JSU’s biggest sports moment, the athletics department was having a banner year before he arrived.

Thomas “Snacks” Lee – remember him? – electrified social media when, as team manager of the men’s basketball team, he donned a uniform on senior night and nailed a 3-pointer that sent the gymnasium into a frenzy. His sports moment won an Espy for Cant-Stop-Watching Moment Award, beating out Olympic champion Simone Biles’ quadruple flip and others.

And the women’s soccer team produced a quarantine video that also went viral.

HBCUs, Lord knows, have their challenges, but athletics departments like Jackson State show that when you have the support of your president/chancellor, an athletics director with brains, a rabid fan base that keeps coming back, and a kick-butt social media/sports marketing department, anything is possible.



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