Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, college closures have been a grim reality for several small schools. In 2023, 15 colleges closed their doors due to financial troubles. Notre Dame College in Euclid, Ohio, is in danger of a similar fate. WKYC reported officials from Cleveland State University have met with Notre Dame College leadership to discuss the possibility of absorbing Notre Dame College.
Surprisingly, this survival move could have a tiny ripple effect in the conference realignment landscape. While Cleveland State currently lacks a football program, Notre Dame College has a Division II football program that plays in the Mountain East Conference. If Cleveland State absorbs Notre Dame College and keeps its football program they will need an FCS conference home. Shockingly, the Northeast Conference looks like a suitable destination.
The Northeast Conference is no stranger to the merging and absorption of colleges. In 2019, LIU-Brooklyn and LIU-Post merged to become Long Island University. The new Long Island University inherited LIU-Post's Division II program and began play in the NEC that season.
Cleveland State's athletic programs reside in the non-football Horizon League. The Vikings would have two realistic conference options should they inherit Notre Dame College's football program: the Pioneer Football League or the Northeast Conference. Like their Horizon League counterpart, Robert Morris, the Vikings can remain in the Horizon League and house football in the NEC.
Adding Cleveland State to the Northeast Conference provides the league with the added security for their FCS Playoff auto bid by giving them eight football-playing members. Cleveland State would have natural rivals in the Allegheny Trio of St. Francis, Robert Morris, and Duquesne, all two hours away from Cleveland. The furthest school from Cleveland is Stonehill, about a 10-hour drive from the city, far from an inconvenient trip.
Should Chicago State start a football program, Cleveland State provides a travel partner for the Cougars. Furthermore, adding Cleveland State increases the Northeast Conference's presence in the rich recruiting ground of Ohio. Dayton from the Pioneer Football League and Youngstown State from the Missouri Valley Football Conference are the only other FCS schools in the Buckeye State.
Hardly any FCS league can stake a legitimate claim to talent in Ohio that slips beneath the cracks of the FBS talent pool. More access to Ohio is an opportunity for the Northeast Conference to improve its competition level on the national stage.
It is never great to prey on one's demise. However, with the Northeast Conference in survival mode, one school's misfortune could aid the conference substantially. Adding Cleveland State and Notre Dame College's merged football program provides a much-needed safety blanket for the most turbulent league in the FCS.
The move also balances the league geographically and decreases Chicago State's isolation should they start a football program. Should Cleveland State absorb Notre Dame Colelge and inherit their football program, the NEC must call promptly.