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MU international students to get a taste of college football

Thursday, April 26, 2012 | 9:11 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Last fall, when Nick Watanabe was delivering a lecture at Beijing Sport University, he began to explain that broadcasts of American sporting events are partially built around selling commercials during breaks in the action.

He had to stop midway through when the students stopped him and asked what type of stops he was referring to. 

"It's very easy to do for sports like baseball or football because you have so many stops in the games," he said. "It's easy to sell that well. If you have a sport like soccer, you have halftime."

As Watanabe mimicked the motion of a pitcher in baseball, demonstrating why the games take so long, he realized the eccentricities of American sports were often lost on those from other countries.

This Saturday, Watanabe will have a chance to bridge that cultural gap for a group of students at MU when the Missouri football team hosts a group of international students to teach them about the rules of the game and the nature of college football in America.

The idea for the event came when Watanabe, a sport management professor, stumbled upon a YouTube video of a similar event held at Rice University. The 150 spots for the MU event were filled quickly, with 30 students currently on the waiting list. 

The event will cover several aspects of the lives of student athletes, MU athletics department student services worker Brad Ekwerekwu said. Missouri football players and coaches will explain the game of football and speak about topics ranging from Missouri football traditions to treatments for injured players.

The students will then tour the football facilities and participate in an on-field clinic before eating a tailgate lunch in the press box at Memorial Stadium.

Ekwerekwu said he hopes the event will help the students, who may be more accustomed to sports such as soccer, understand the passion for the game in America.

"In a lot of ways, American football is like (soccer) in the bigger markets here," he said. "They probably don't quite understand how popular and how much pride people take in it. They (the football players) are kind of the same kind of status level as their European or Asian soccer players."

Watanabe noted that in many other countries, athletes play college sports if they're not good enough to become professionals. Because of that, many international students might not realize that American universities are the equivalent of minor leagues for many sports. 

"Mizzou's international student population has been growing," Watanabe said. "I felt one of the big groups that doesn't get a full exposure of what's going on those Saturdays in fall is international students."

Becky Showmaker, who has helped coordinate the event through the International Center, said she hopes the event will translate into a new enthusiasm for the game come fall. 

"They get such a unique opportunity to interact with the football team, and that's great, but I think there's nothing like being at a football game," she said. "I hope that encourages them to participate in that."

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.


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