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Pac-12 Globalization Initiative could be the start of something big

SAN FRANCISCO – Conference realignment across the country is relatively dormant at the moment but the Pac-12 still seems to still be kicking the tires. Commissioner Larry Scott isn’t considering a 13th or 14th member for the conference however -- he’s eyeing an entire country.

The Pac-12 announced on Wednesday that the league is expanding its Globalization Initiative to send several more groups to China later this summer (an all-star volleyball team just returned). The plans have been in the works for a while and represent a significant ramping up of relations between the Pac-12 and the region.

[RelatedPac-12 announces global initiative press release]

“In talking with the presidents and trying to determine the strategy for the conference going forward, it became clear to me that globalization was a big deal for the schools,” Scott told Pac-12 Networks. “Given the West Coast position of our conference, our schools are already the gateway to the Pacific Rim. There’s already a heavy Asian influence and it’s only natural for us [as a conference] to look West with so many of our schools already doing it.

“And when you think of Asia and the Pacific, China is the highest priority.”

Chinese students are the fastest growing demographic of applicants to Pac-12 universities, according to Scott. Many school presidents have made trips to Asia, China in particular, during the past few summers to connect with leaders and forge bonds with their brands and universities. Plenty of Pac-12 teams have gone on foreign tours too.

Now Scott has taken the position that it is better to go about things in a more “systematic and strategic way” with the conference office playing the role of middleman to facilitate things. The goal in China remains the same for the Pac-12 as it is in Los Angeles, New York or Miami: grow the brand, connect with fans, and give student-athletes new opportunities.

“I don’t think our initiative will be limited to China or the Asia-Pacific region but I do think it’s important to focus,” he said. “We’ve really just tried to put some strategy behind what the schools are doing to create a multiplier effect and have a bigger impact.”

Ultimately this means more Pac-12 teams will take the long plane ride for a chance to play games in China. Last year it was UCLA men's basketball. Arizona State’s men’s basketball and Cal’s women’s basketball teams will tour China later this summer, in addition to the all-star women's volleyball team that just returned. The initiative won’t be a one-way street either.

“I just keep seeing it expanding. More sports, more schools participating,” Scott said. “In addition, we’re developing relationships with FUSC -- the Chinese NCAA equivalent -- the Ministry of Education, pro leagues, promoters, sponsors and others. We’re also doing work back here, as evidenced by the 50 Chinese administrators we hosted at the men’s basketball tournament.

“I just see the depth and breath of the tour activity continuing to expand and that will lead to some regular season competition over there.”

Conference staff already is exploring the possibility of having a regular season men’s basketball game (or games) in China. Several schools have even been proactive by volunteering to go. Women’s basketball also figures to be in the mix.

It’s also possible Pac-12 Networks programming could be distributed overseas with Chinese sponsors underwriting some of the costs.

The most popular sport in America also could get in on the action.

“I think we will have football [in China] at some stage,” Scott remarked. “I think it’s more of a longer-term thing. I’ve done due diligence on it during my trips... It’s very expensive to bring teams over there and I just don’t know if it’s practically very viable right now. The NFL has been over there for years trying to develop fans and end up doing a lot of grassroots activity. It’s just hard when it’s not an endemic sport and that’s the beauty of basketball and the Olympic sports.”

You may see a Pac-12 football team playing in Europe sooner than Asia as a result. First and foremost though, the conference is trying to do what many of its member schools do on a daily basis: educate.

“People outside the U.S., not just China but generally, are not that familiar with U.S. college sports,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of education that needs to be done about college sports in general and the Pac-12 specifically. In China, I would like the Pac-12 to be seen as the elite athletic conference in the United States with some of the best-known brands.”

The Conference of Champions may not be adding any members but it certainly is trying to add some influence in the world’s most populous region.

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