A small, private Cleveland-area college is making a big name for itself in football. Notre Dame College is in the Division II tournament for the first time in school history, capping off an undefeated 11-0 season.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says Notre Dame is relatively unknown in the sports world. That's because its namesake, the Fighting Irish of South Bend, Indiana, gets the spotlight, not the Falcons of South Euclid, Ohio.
Going coed and forming a team
Notre Dame College has an enrollment of 2,000 at the 40-acre campus. Tuition is $41,000. The football team has around 150 players.
It was originally founded as a women's Catholic college in 1922. Over time, as enrollment declined, the school went coed in 2001.
"They realized they had to do something to attract male students," Pluto said. "And what a lot of people don't like to talk about is that you're educating young people, but there's a business element to it. And we've seen a lot of small, private colleges close across the country because they couldn't make it economically."
DI vs DII
So, 10 years ago, Notre Dame College decided to start a football program. Pluto thought it was a bad idea, because most college football programs run a deficit, with the exception of the powerhouse schools like Ohio State and Alabama. Also, on the Division I level, schools award 85 full-scholarships for football.
However, Notre Dame College plays in Division II, where most head coaches are paid $70,000 to $100,000. And very few players get a full scholarship. "So that also means at least 50 players or more are paying some sort of tuition. And maybe none of them would have gone to Notre Dame at all without that."
A good coach and finally their own field
Then Notre Dame College ended up with a good team built around head coach Mike Jacobs. He was a long snapper at Ohio State and coached at California University of Pennsylvania for six years. "It's more football coaching than it is being a CEO of this multi-million dollar enterprise," Pluto said.
Another turning point for the football program was when the team got its own field. "They were playing games at nearby Brush High School," Pluto said. Now, there's Mueller Field on campus.
"It's not this college football factory. Notre Dame, South Euclid has found a place on the college football map."
Notre Dame College hosts Slippery Rock in the Division II tournament quarterfinals Saturday at 12 p.m.