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Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEWORLEANS-- Grambling State University football players are on strike and reportedly will not play on Saturday against Jackson State.

The university's football program has been embroiled in a controversy that could impact this year's Bayou Classic in New Orleans.

'That's very important to us. That's a rivalry game with Southern, which has been going on for years,' said David Warren, president of the Grambling Alumni Association New Orleans Chapter

It's the best known game and rivalry in historically black college football, drawing thousands of fans to the Crescent City.

Now that Grambling's football team is on strike organizers of the event are keeping tabs on what happens. The football team is allegedly upset about last month's firing of coach Doug Williams and the school's use of ground transportation to shuttle players to distant away-games.

On Friday players reportedly announced they're forfeiting Saturday's game against Jackson State. It's a rumor university officials addressed at a news conference that same afternoon.

'We plan on going to Jackson this afternoon. I can't tell you how many players are going to show up and we haven't made any decisions about repercussions of the players that don't show up,' said a university official.

Warren said the current unrest shouldn't impact this year's Bayou Classic.

'The event is going to go on. As of 6:30 p.m. today some officials are meeting with the president of the university and the students trying to work out their issues,' added Warren.

Local organizers of the event, which is marking its 40th anniversary, say plans are still moving forward despite this week's developments.

'We actually have been in meetings with both of the planning committees on both campuses, Grambling and Southern, and we are excited about our plans this year,' said NOCCI President & CEO Dottie Belletto.

She said the event continues to be a big economic boost for New Orleans.

'This is a very slow period in the city of New Orleans and we're filling up 93 percent of the rooms,' Belletto said.

As Grambling officials try to iron out their football team's grievances, fans can only keep their fingers-crossed that it won't impact the annual Tiger-Jaguar showdown inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Warren said Grambling's New Orleans Alumni Chapter is in touch with national alumni officials. It will touch base again with them on Monday to discuss what's happening with the Bayou Classic.

The president of the Southern University System Ronald Mason declined to comment on our story.

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