Southern Heritage Classic founder Fred Jones awaits another bang up year. “People have grown up with the Classic. I take my hat off to all of the people that have supported us over the years.”

By Tony Jones

NASHVILLE, TN — Two HBCU firsts bring additional excitement to the Southern Heritage Classic this year. For the 2023 edition, with events scheduled from Thursday, Sept. 7th leading up to the game’s kickoff Saturday, September 9th at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, when the Tennessee State University Tigers will face newly minted opponent the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions. TSU will be bringing the adrenaline of playing its first season opener on prime time national television when NBC will broadcast its game with Notre Dame, Saturday, Sept. 2nd at 2:30 P.M, while UAPB will be buoyed by its first appearance at the Classic after replacing Jackson State University as TSU’s Classic opponent. First matched in 1944, the last time the two faced off was in 2019, with UAPB winning 37-31. TSU leads the series 4-1. 

UAPB stepped in when JSU’s former coach, NFL great Deon Sanders, controversially curtailed JSU’s long partnership with the Classic. After three year tenure he has become head football coach at the University of Colorado. Nicknamed “Prime Time” in his heyday, Sanders’ controversial move may have been a factor in Notre Dame inviting TSU, or it may not, but regardless, TSU will be the focus of the sports world this weekend, creating a great lead in for the Classic. 

Though not planned, founder Fred Jones says UAPB’s coming on board was not difficult at all, “The best thing about it was the fact that we were able to announce them early, in December (2022). Participation wise, I couldn’t ask for anything better and I think a lot of people are going to be surprised next week.” They are coming into a classically (pun intended) managed large event. As its press release states, “The Classic has proven itself to be one of the most successful events in the Bluff City. Each year, an average of 50,000 fans flock to Memphis for a good time and outstanding HBCU football. According to an impact study by The University of Memphis, the Classic brings in $21 million to the local economy annually.” Jones adds, “All those staples that we’ve built into the Classic over the years are still there. It looks the same and feels the same.” 

He laughs heartily about another one of the new wrinkles for the 2023 season, his gregarious and grinning social media presence. As if he was a student from one of the two HBCUs featured at the game, seems like he’s always online personally posting, tweeting or offering comments updating the web about what’s happening, in his case centered around the Classic, of course. 

But no matter how smooth Jones’s company Summit management runs the event, they’re always on alert. “It’s like playing golf. Even Tiger Woods in his heyday, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Sneed, you never master the game. And that’s the fun and the challenge. You can play at a high level, but you can never master it. We have a good team, a good formula and we know how to work it. But no matter how well you plan, Murphy’s Law kicks in and it’s usually at the 11th hour. But I think it shows that we have a good foundation. Weather is the biggest challenge. It’s the X factor. Imagine if it had been scheduled last week during the extreme heat. 

Bottom line, “The most important thing is that you have to focus on this year. You don’t have tomorrow. The next game for the Southern Heritage Classic is next year, Sept. 14th, 2024 so you have to react very positively to get things done. People have grown up with the Classic. I give my hat off to all of the people that have supported us over the years.”