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Madonna University is adding a 20th athletic team — and it's a big one.

Starting in 2020, the private, Catholic, liberal-arts school in Livonia, will field a football team, the university announced Wednesday.

It is expected to compete in the Mid-States Football Association, which also includes Concordia, Siena Heights and, starting in 2019, Southfield's Lawrence Tech.

"We are excited to add football to our athletic offerings," Madonna president Dr. Michael Grandillo said in announcing the addition. "We hope bringing collegiate football to Western Wayne County will be as thrilling for the communities we serve as it is to the Madonna community. The strength and success of our current programs gives us confidence that Crusaders' football will find success as well."

This is the latest ambitious endeavor for Madonna, an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) school which added eight sports teams in 2015. A national search for a head coach will begin this fall, with a hire expected by the winter.

The 2019-20 season would be a "red-shirt" season, meaning the team would practice in anticipation of its official debut season. Practices will take place on Madonna's campus, off I-96 and Newburgh Road, with games being played at a site still to be determined. One of the Livonia public schools could end up being the home field.

Madonna plans for about 40 players for the "red-shirt" season, and between 90 and 110 for the inaugural season.

"Football has the opportunity to be a driving force for our department moving forward," Madonna athletic director Scott Kennell said in a statement. "It is a great way for us to build a larger community fan base for Madonna athletics and can lead to other opportunities for students such as cheerleading, competitive dance and a marching band. All of which, we are currently looking into.

"We are coming off the most successful season in Madonna athletics history and we feel this is the next natural step for our athletics program.

"Football is going to bring visibility to our campus, and in return, enhance the university and the local communities."

Madonna, nicknamed the Crusaders, competes in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference in its other sports, which include: baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's bowling, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's golf, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's soccer, softball, men's and women's indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball.

Currently, 90 NAIA schools sponsor football. 

Lawrence Tech announced in January 2017 that it was adding football for the first time in 70 years. It hired Central Michigan alum Jeff Duvendeck as its head coach, and its debut season is in 2018, as an independent. It joins the Mid-States Football Association in 2019.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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