Deion Sanders doesn't need the Power Five to change college football. He already is | Opinion

Khari Thompson
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Deion Sanders is never going to escape speculation about leaving Jackson State for a Power Five job. Especially as he keeps stacking accolades. 

But after being named SWAC coach of the year and FCS coach of the year, and after winning a conference championship with a chance to win the program's first HBCU national title in a quarter century, it's time to reconsider whether Sanders needs FBS-level amenities to transform the power structure of college athletics. 

Wednesday's news suggests he doesn't. 

Sanders overshadowed every college football heavyweight on the first day of the early signing period Wednesday when five-star cornerback Travis Hunter, the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, launched a new era in the sport by switching his commitment from Florida State to the Tigers — all despite JSU's modest budget, facilities, schedule and television deal. 

MADE FOR THE MOMENT:Travis Hunter to Jackson State proves Deion Sanders is made for NIL era | Toppmeyer

COACH OF THE YEAR:Jackson State's Deion Sanders wins Eddie Robinson Award for top FCS football coach

Sanders' status as one of the greatest defensive backs of all time surely played a role in landing the most prolific defensive back of this recruiting cycle. But Sanders' ascension as a coach and visionary swung the door open. 

Sanders has shown he can draw a higher-average attendance (42,293) than any program in FCS history. He has shown that JSU can go toe-to-toe with the Egg Bowl on the same week and outdraw it. In just his second season, he's set to coach his first bowl game in front of a sold-out crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta — nearly doubling the attendance record of the Celebration Bowl.

And as a person who was getting paid to play professional baseball for the New York Yankees while playing college football for Florida State, he's uniquely positioned to help athletes navigate the NCAA's new landscape with Name, Image, Likeness rules in place. 

For Hunter, that apparently was enough to break the status quo. Because while it isn't new for an elite recruit to choose an HBCU in, say, basketball, it became new in college football Wednesday.

COACH PRIME'S REACTION:Deion Sanders reacts after No. 1 recruit Travis Hunter's commitment to Jackson State football

That's not to say Sanders will stay at Jackson State forever, especially after reportedly interviewing for TCU's coaching vacancy and being linked to several other jobs. 

But it's time to start examining what a Power Five school could do for Deion Sanders instead of just looking at what Deion Sanders could do for a Power Five school. 

A Power Five program could offer him much more money. Some could offer more than 20 times more than the $300,000 salary he's making at Jackson State. 

But is it really about the money for Sanders at this stage of his life? He's 54, and he spent years getting paid by the NFL and the MLB. And he still has plenty of marketing power, as evidenced by deals with Aflac, Gillette and Barstool Sports. 

Travis Hunter snags a touchdown pass during a 7-on-7 game on Saturday.

A Power Five school could offer the opportunity to win a College Football Playoff national championship, which Jackson State can't do because it is in FCS. 

But Sanders has won two Super Bowls. He has hit an MLB home run and scored an NFL touchdown in the same week. He has played in bigger games than the CFP national championship. 

What Sanders is doing at Jackson State is unprecedented. It's record-breaking, legacy-building, history-altering stuff. He's doing it with his sons, Shedeur and Shilo, as members of his team. And together they're revolutionizing the landscape of HBCU athletics. 

Programs are upping the ante to keep pace. Just look at what has happened since Sanders took over at JSU: Tennessee State hired former All-Pro Eddie George; Grambling State hired Hue Jackson, a former NFL head coach; Kevin Sumlin's name has been floated for jobs, along with Ray Lewis'. 

Jackson State University head coach Deion Sanders walks along the sideline during the Orange Blossom Classic between Florida A&M University and Jackson State University at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021.

Sanders might well one day jump to the highest level of college athletics, with more lavish facilities and resources, but he'll never again deliver the type of shock to the sport as he has since being hired at JSU — with the latest jolt coming on Wednesday. 

So, yes, the questions about Sanders' future will be unceasing. 

Because the transformation Sanders has delivered in barely a year at JSU is already much bigger than anything he could accomplish at a Power Five school.