JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Grambling's proud football program descended into further chaos Friday when the school canceled Saturday's game against Jackson State after disgruntled players refused to travel to Jackson.
Jackson State officials announced the cancellation Friday night. Athletic department spokesman Wesley Peterson told The Associated Press that Grambling officials contacted Jackson State to inform them of the decision.
Grambling spokesman Will Sutton said late Friday that the Southwestern Athletic Conference has labeled the game as a "no contest" and that university officials would have no further comment. He said players will not be available for interviews.
Grambling officials met throughout a chaotic Friday, trying to rectify the sour situation between players and administration. Apparently, nothing could be worked out so that the game could be played. SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp said according to league rules, Grambling will forfeit and the school will be fined.
"I've been in contact with the schools and they informed me the game is going to be canceled," Sharp said. "It's just a very disappointing situation when something like this happens. But we'll do everything we can with these schools to reach an understanding moving forward."
Friday's apparent player boycott was the latest in three days of upheaval for Grambling's program — which rose to prominence under coach Eddie Robinson. Several media outlets have reported that players did not attend practice Wednesday and Thursday because of issues with program and school leadership.
Grambling (0-7) has changed coaches twice in about two months. Doug Williams was fired two games into the season and replaced by George Ragsdale, who was reassigned Thursday and replaced by Dennis "Dirt" Winston.
Late Friday, the University of Louisiana System, which oversees nine state universities including Grambling, released a statement on behalf of system President Sandra Woodley and Board of Supervisors Chairman Wayne Parker, who stated they have been "closely monitoring" the situation at Grambling.
"The student athletes are our primary concern, and while we respect their right to protest, we are concerned about the unintended consequences resulting from this action," the statement read. The statement added that the university system is working closely with Grambling President Frank Pogue, the NCAA, and other advisers "to proceed in a compassionate manner that minimizes potentially harmful ramifications for our students and demonstrates pride and dignity for Grambling."
The game is Jackson State's homecoming and could hurt the school financially. The Grambling-Jackson State matchup usually draws very well — an announced crowd of more than 21,000 attended the game in Jackson in 2011.
Jackson State's athletic budget is about $6 million and the school relies heavily on football revenue. Jackson State spokeswoman Jean Cook said the school would still have homecoming festivities, including the homecoming parade, a football scrimmage and extended band performance. The school said it's working on a process to refund tickets.
"It's not ideal," Cook said. "But we're trying to make the best of things." Louisiana State Sen. Rick Gallot, a Democrat from Ruston and a Grambling graduate, said Friday evening that he was "optimistic that leadership issues and the concerns of the student-athletes will all be fleshed out and addressed and we'll be able to return to a semblance of normalcy on campus."
"We have to always keep the students first and foremost," Gallot added. "It shouldn't be about the contracts and hiring and firing and things like that." With the forfeit to Jackson State, Grambling has now lost 18 straight games against NCAA opponents.
The 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. The men's basketball team was 0-28 last season.
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