Southern Heritage Classic, matching up HBCU teams, canceled over coronavirus

The Southern Heritage Classic, which since 1990 has annually matched football teams from historically black colleges and universities at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the game's promoters announced Wednesday.

Jackson State and Tennessee State were scheduled to play in the 31st Southern Heritage Classic on Sept. 12.

It is believed to be the first college football game canceled because of the pandemic.

On Monday, the health department in Shelby County, Tennessee, where Memphis is located, reported 256 coronavirus cases, the largest increase in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic. The department announced that an anticipated move into Phase 3 of reopening would be delayed as a result.

The game's organizers said the decision to cancel was made after reviewing a copy of the Shelby County Health Department's directive detailing emergency management relief efforts to address the pandemic. Last season, an announced crowd of 48,347 watched Jackson State defeat Tennessee State 49-44.

The game's promoters said more than 75,000 people annually attend the three-day event, which includes tailgating and a parade.

"I know this is a great disappointment to many who consider the SHC one of the major highlights of the year," SHC founder Fred Jones said in a statement. "The health and safety of our attendees along with our staff, sponsors, and others is a top priority. I encourage everyone to keep practicing recommended safety and social distancing measures so that we can return to our usual activities as soon as possible."

In a statement, the Memphis athletics department said it will continue to stay in contact with state, local and regional health officials for guidance on home games in the fall, "and all current indications are that home games will be played as planned." The university said that, based on current projections, only season-ticket holders would be accommodated and there will be no single-game sales for home games.

Memphis is scheduled to start the season against Arkansas State at home on Sept. 5.