The Pac-12 conference appears to be inching its way closer to setting up a football game in Mexico City between one of its schools and a Big 12 opponent. CBS Sports is reporting that the game will likely be played in Estadio Azteca where the NFL once held a regular season game between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers in 2005. The probable Big 12 "opponent-to-be" is the University of Texas. Texas has several dates slated with Pac-12 schools between 2015 and 2018.
The consideration of a game in Mexico City is part of Larry Scott's Globalization Initiative to draw international attention to Pac-12 sports. For an idea that began in 2011, the Globalization Initiative has got off to a rather inauspicious start in its first few years. Up until 2014, it was limited to a Pac-12 All-Star Volleyball team touring China and a few Women's and Men's Basketball teams taking their NCAA allotted international tours through China. However, a Pac-12 Men's All Star team coached by Oregon State's Craig Robinson will tour China in August 2014. And in March it was announced that a regular season Men's Basketball between Washington and Texas in 2015 would also be played in China.
Basketball seems like the logical place to start for the Global Initiative given the game's rapid growth over the past several decades on an international level. A game between two large flagship universities in the world's most populous country seems to make sense.
Yet it seems like quite a stretch that such a game would garner that much attention in a nation that is already quite familiar with the game at the pro level having already provided the NBA with one of its more recognizable superstars in the past decade, Yao Ming, and hosted the best players in the world at the 2012 Beijing Games.
Internationalizing football seems to be a much greater endeavor for several reasons. First, our football is nothing like the sport most of the rest of the world considers to be football, and they might have a point seeing that a foot is permitted to touch a ball in a very select amount of plays. Second, outside of the basic rules, few Americans really understand the ins and outs of the game beyond the rules and basic commentary on television.
Even the basics of football are hard to teach to unfamiliar outsiders. If you have ever have tried to explain to a person from another country what is happening and the rules of the game while it is going on, you will know what I mean. Likewise, there are several international sports I see on TV that look really interesting, but I don't have the time and patience at this point of my life to sit down and try to understand them.
The Mexico City game, if played, will not be the first international college football game. Notre Dame is taking its ongoing ‘rivalry' with Navy to Dublin this year and there are talks that Penn State will also being playing a game abroad in Ireland.
The logic to go international fits with the modern economy that is becoming increasingly integrated on a global scale. Except for small local niche businesses, you pretty much have to go global or die. However, I am skeptical that college football will have a lot of international appeal. If NFL Europa busted with the backing of the NFL, America's most prominent professional sports league, then what is going to be the international appeal to the game at the college level? There seems to be a reason why the NFL has not returned to Mexico and its international competition is limited to an annual game at Wembley Stadium.
If the NFL struggles to gain international appeal, how much harder will it be for college football to gain traction? Pro football is a national obsession in America and the NFL "Gameday Experience" takes on variations across several cities. College football, on the other hand, seems to take on more extreme variations. If we think of places like Tuscaloosa, Blacksburg, State College, South Bend, Ann Arbor, Norman, Austin, Eugene, and Pullman, it is the same game sanctioned by the same governing body, but there seems to be a wider range in fan attitudes and atmosphere. This is something that SB Nation's Bill Connelly really emphasizes in his book Study Hall. Every school has its localized tradition that makes attending an event there like no other experience. The local triumphs over the global when it comes to college football and that is what drives the passion.
As for what seems to be a probable game to be played in Mexico City, I am curious to see how it gets pulled off just because I have a curiosity to observe the outcomes of experiments. Perhaps a lot of people will travel to root for their schools just to see their "first international game." Regardless, I don't see it as being a viable long term strategy. It just feels like a novelty that would wear off rather quickly.
This piece from Everyday Should be Saturday contemplates the possibility of a Mexico City game. Spencer Hall expresses his skepticism of tan international game too and takes a little poke at Ole Wazzu by writing:
"Ideally, it would involve the two most raucous fanbases traveling at their most foolhardy across land, and there you are, Washington State and West Virginia. It's decided. Leach v. Holgo in a defense-free firefight in the middle of Estadio Azteca. You'll be astonished at how many Mexicans show up to watch."
I'd take this challenge to see if Coug fans would show up to Old Mexico comparable to the way they showed up to New Mexico for the 2013 New Mexico Bowl. It might not do a whole lot to boost the Pac-12 brand internationally, but it might make for some happy lime farmers.