‘Go Crusaders:’ Madonna University to add football team in 2020

Athletic director Scott Kennell speaks Aug. 8 during a press conference at Madonna University to announce the addition of a football team to the school’s athletic department starting in 2020. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Felician-run school plans to hire coach in January, recruit 40 athletes next year

LIVONIA — Are you ready for some Felician football?

On Aug. 8, Madonna University athletic director Scott Kennell announced the Felician-run university would be adding a football team to the athletic department for the 2020-21 school year.

“Football has the opportunity to be the driving force behind our department moving forward,” Kennell told media and community members gathered at the Sr. Mary Danatha Gathering Center on the Livonia campus. “Adding football is a great way for us to build a large community fan base for Madonna athletics and will lead to more opportunities for students on campus, such as cheerleading, competitive dance and a marching band.”

The new team will participate in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Madonna, founded by the Felician Sisters in 1947 and with an estimated enrollment of 3,100 for the upcoming school year, has 17 teams, and the college won a share of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference’s (WHAC) All-Sports Trophy for the school’s overall athletic performance for the 2017-18 school year.

“Football is going to bring visibility to our campus and in return enhance the university,” Kennell said. “Football completes the collegiate experience for our students. Football game days and activities surrounding it can’t be replicated by any sport.”

Kennell indicated Madonna is in talks with Livonia Public Schools for the use of its three high school stadiums for game days. College football is typically played on Saturdays, while high school football is normally on Friday nights. Livonia’s Franklin, Stevenson and Churchill high schools all have stadiums.

“Livonia Public Schools have agreed to allow us to utilize one of their high school game facilities, until a permanent home is found,” Kennell said. “We don’t want to lock ourselves into just one site, so we can have flexibility week to week in the future.”

Madonna President Michael Grandillo said the school has been thinking about adding a football team for a couple of years and he’s received positive feedback from members in the Livonia community and the Felicians.

“I just got off the phone with Felicians doing their ministry in New Mexico, and they said they will be watching our games online,” Grandillo said. “The leadership in Beaver Falls (where the Felician Province is headquartered) will be watching. The sisters are football fans, and when we told them we’re considering this, they got excited.”

Kennell said the school will begin a national search for a head coach in October with the hopes of hiring a coach in January. Between the team and its surrounding activities, at least 120 students are expected to be added to the school, with 24 players being on scholarship. National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schools can offer partial athletic scholarships.

A mockup of the helmet for the Madonna Crusaders was unveiled along with the announcement. Courtesy of Madonna University

“The committee studying bringing football to campus discovered it takes $1,000 to outfit a player, but we’ll be adding 150 to 200 students to enrollment, so the economic cash flow works well with the increase in tuition money to the institution,” Grandillo said. “None of the other sports will see a cut in funding, and compared to other schools in the conference, our teams are some of the best financially supported.”

The WHAC doesn’t sponsor football, so Madonna will be looking to the Mid-States Football Association to provide completion. The MSFA is a football-only conference that spans the Midwest and includes fellow Michigan schools Siena Heights, Concordia and Lawrence Tech.

“This is more than a game; this is a chance to create a total campus experience,” Grandillo said. “Just think of the sound of a marching band, the smell of grass, the fall weather. We want to thank Livonia Public Schools for being cooperative. We don’t just want to be Madonna’s team; this is going to be the city of Livonia’s team.”

Kennell said recruiting for the team will begin immediately after the hiring of a coach — adding the area is home to some of the strongest high school teams in state, including those in the Catholic High School League.

The plan is to recruit 40 students for the first year of the program’s existence in 2019-20 for a “red shirt year,” when the team will only practice and play a Spring Blue-Gold scrimmage game. The program will begin in earnest in 2020-21 with its first full season.

“We’re excited about hiring a coach who will instill the Catholic values of our university and support the community,” Grandillo said. “Last year, our student-athletes did 2,000 hours of community service. We view all of our teams as a way to build young men and women of character who are very employable and are leaders in the community. Madonna has become a powerhouse in athletics in our conference, and that reflect the values the Felicians Sister have instilled in us.

“Go Crusaders,” he added.