HOUSTON — Southwestern Athletic Conference commissioner Duer Sharp said Friday he has not resigned.
One way or another, Saturday's game at NRG Stadium between Grambling and Alcorn State will mark the last time Sharp hands out a SWAC championship trophy to the league's best football team.
“I turned in a letter of nonrenewal, stating my contract would not be renewed as of June 30," Sharp said, "but it was not a letter of resignation.”
The Advocate reported Friday that Sharp had submitted his resignation but that it was unclear when his duties as conference commissioner would end.
“I’m the commissioner and I plan to be so moving forward,” Sharp said. “I have not resigned. I don’t know where that started from. I landed yesterday in Houston and my phone went completely crazy.”
The SWAC is holding its winter meetings in Houston and school presidents and chancellors met Thursday morning with some hot topics, including the possibility of re-implementing the SWAC championship game after it was announced last summer that Saturday’s game would be the last.
Much of the debate comes from how to handle the conference championship game now that the Celebration Bowl matches the SWAC champion against the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion. The MEAC does not have a championship game.
When it was decided last summer that Saturday’s SWAC championship game would be the last, many schools were not happy with that decision, including Southern, athletic director Roman Banks said.
Banks said that SWAC athletic directors “unanimously agreed" to look at re-instituting the SWAC championship game as soon as next season.
“We are continuing to bump heads with our own bowl game,” Sharp said. “People are starting to say, ‘I can’t do the Bayou Classic, SWAC championship and then the Celebration Bowl.’ One of those games is going to suffer.
“It’s starting to affect our attendance and once we saw the pattern of attendance begin to decline, we had to bring that information to our presidents.”
Sharp said last year’s SWAC championship game drew 17,000 fans.
Now, schools are looking at alternate ways to host the game.
“There is still discussion of looking at the football championship, possibly on campuses,” Sharp said. “It could be at the No. 1 ranked team hosting. I like that better because it adds more importance to the regular season.”
Either way, Sharp said, Saturday's game will be the last at NRG Stadium.
"I'm looking forward to a good game Saturday, between two well-coached teams who will be ready to play," he said. "It should be fun."
While Saturday could be the final chapter of the championship game, Grambling has spent the past two decades writing the book.
The Tigers will be playing in their 10th conference championship game in 19 years. They're looking for their eighth title when they meet Alcorn at 3:30 p.m.
Even with the storied history, this year’s team could be among the best ever. Grambling (10-1, 7-0) has won 10 straight games and 25 consecutive SWAC contests, including last year’s SWAC championship against Alcorn.
“It is a different year, but we have a really good football team again,” said Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs, who was named SWAC coach of the year for the fourth straight season.
“It will be a battle, but we will be ready for it. We want to make sure we are the champions in the last one.”
Grambling leads the SWAC in scoring offense (32 points a game) and is second in scoring defense (18).
Alcorn (7-4, 5-2) comes in with the second-highest scoring offense (30.9) and third-best scoring defense (20.1).
The Braves have won the Eastern Division for four straight years. They are also the last SWAC team to beat Grambling, having won the 2015 championship game.
“Our players feel like Houston is our second home and it is very special to them,” Alcorn coach Fred McNair said. “Our guys have done a great job the whole year preparing themselves for this.”