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WSU football and the globalization of the Pac-12

AMONG THE MANY takeaways from Pac-12 media days, one that stood out to me was a central theme of commissioner Larry Scott’s speech -- globalization. Globalization of commerce, culture and even sports is driven by new technologies. The potential opportunities are almost beyond imagination.

But don’t expect Washington State to suddenly start recruiting around the globe. Mike Leach weighed in on the concept.

“I don’t think it’s there yet. Most of the European players that have success and go into college (and) then the NFL, they come over here,” said Leach, who was in Italy this offseason to host a football clinic with Chris Ault, the former Nevada coach now coaching the Milano Rhinos.

For now, foreign athletes playing college football remain the exception rather than the rule. Why is that? Leach offered thoughts on present roadblocks limiting the possibility of coming to America to play in the Pac-12 and get a world class education at the same time.

“One thing in Europe that would be hard...is those European (amateur) leagues (include) players ranging from 15 to 40,” said Leach, who coached the Pori Bears in Finland back in 1989.

And then there are the evaluation challenges.

“There has to be ready access to film. One of the tougher things is gauging the competition. You’ll see somebody that looks great on (film) but if the competition isn’t very good (determining) how good a standout player actually is can be tough,” said Leach.

SCOTT OPENED THE two-day media event talking about how embracing globalization could positively impact Pac-12 member institutions and what the future might hold. Following the lead of the NFL expanding their reach to Europe and beyond, Pac-12 football will travel abroad to open the 2016 college football schedule with Cal kicking off against Hawaii Sidney, Australia on Aug. 26.

Cal will have almost two weeks before its second game of the season, but Hawaii UH will have only a short time back in Honolulu before leaving for its Sept. 3 game at Michigan. Meanwhile, the logistics in a football program traveling overseas are extensive. Cal has been preparing for the game since January.

“Very few of our players had passports. You can imagine trying to get passports for 120 kids, so that was a challenge in itself,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes.

When we pick up the television remote to watch a game, the process behind a team traveling to the venue usually doesn’t cross our mind. Fact is, it’s a huge undertaking to move a football team a few hundred miles, let alone thousands of miles and numerous time zones.

“When you're taking 300 people to Australia to go participate in a game, there's a lot of moving parts,” quipped Dykes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAMES gave been played on foreign soil dating back to 1874 when Harvard traveled to Montreal, Canada, to establish a rivalry which has been credited as the establishment of American football. By placing Pac-12 football on a global stage,

Scott isn’t breaking new ground. It’s easy to see he is taking steps to expand football on the world stage similarly to the way soccer experienced global growth over the past 50-plus years.

The goal in enhancing the reach of the conference brand is to elevate member schools to new levels. As football expands its reach, it would logically follow that new opportunities will be created for student-athletes. And the networks in place required to recruit the best prospects would figure to become more and more dependent on new technologies.

Who would have thought as recently as this past spring that German Moritz Boehringer would be drafted by the NFL Minnesota Vikings without having played NCAA football? New technology made that possible for him. Boehringer found clips on YouTube of Adrian Peterson four years ago and then did what it took to get a crack at playing professional football at the highest level.

Taking the Pac-12 brand of football global is in its infancy. But with the proper plan and focus, Scott believes it not only will happen but that the conference will be better and stronger as a result.

“With Pac-12 global, the conference and its membership are using sports to push beyond the traditional horizons, and we look forward to continued growth and success,” said Scott.

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