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SWAC moves football championship game to Jackson

Jackson State did not make it to the Southwestern Athletic Conference football championship game, but its stadium did.

The SWAC announced Wednesday that Jackson’s Veterans Memorial Stadium will serve as the host site for its spring football championship game on May 1. East Division champion Alabama A&M (4-0) will play West champ Arkansas-Pine Bluff (4-0) for the title at 2 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

The game was originally scheduled to be played on the campus of the highest-ranked team at the end of the regular season. All three games scheduled for this weekend were canceled because of COVID-19 issues among various teams, however, which led SWAC officials to move the championship game to a neutral site.

“The canceled games would have ultimately assisted the conference office in determining a host institution for the championship game using our existing hosting tiebreaker policy,” SWAC commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland said in a statement. “Without having the ability to thoroughly evaluate both teams using that policy we reached the conclusion that the only fair and equitable decision that could be made was to move the game to a neutral site location.”

Memorial Stadium will become the fourth stadium to host the SWAC championship game since its inception in 1999. It was played at Legion Field in Birmingham from 1999-2012, and then NRG Stadium in Houston from 2013-17. The game was switched to campus sites in 2018, and Alcorn State hosted it that year and in 2019.

The football championship game will tie in with another SWAC championship event taking place in Jackson. The conference’s baseball tournament will be played at Smith-Wills Stadium May 19-23.

“The City of Jackson is thrilled to serve as host for the SWAC Championship game and grateful for the opportunity to present Jackson to all of our visitors and friends,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a statement. “The atmosphere surrounding football in Jackson offers a great sense of place and pride in our community and this event will provide a welcomed economic boost as part of Jackson’s 52 week tourism strategy.”

The SWAC was scheduled to finish its spring football season with three games this Saturday — Jackson State vs. Prairie View A&M, Mississippi Valley State vs. Alabama A&M, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff vs. Texas Southern — but all were canceled.

Jackson State, Valley and Texas Southern, all of which have been eliminated from contention for their division titles, said they had COVID-19 issues within their programs. Alabama A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff had already clinched the two division championships.

Alabama A&M finished its first undefeated regular season since 1966 and will play in the SWAC championship game for the seventh time. The Bulldogs went 35 days between their season opener on March 6 and their second game on April 10. They defeated Jackson State 52-43 and Alabama State 38-14 in back-to-back weeks to claim the program’s first East Division championship since 2011.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff will play in the SWAC championship game for the third time, and first since winning the conference title in 2012.