College football’s back on Saturday, and look at this highly ordinary slate:
Wait! What’s that there, right at the bottom? Let us zoom in.
This game’s happening for a few reasons.
It’s a chance to promote American football in Australia.
In that vein, it’s part of a long history of international college football games. That dates to 1874, when Harvard played McGill in Montreal.
This game is part of the Sydney Cup series, which started with a clash last year between Cal and Hawaii. Before that, the last American college game in Australia was in 1987, when BYU beat Colorado State in front of a crowd of fewer than 8,000.
Over the years, American football has gotten more popular. A lot of people in Australia seem to want it, so organizers have brought the game to themselves.
One told UPROXX before last year’s game:
Quite simply, there has been an eruption in the last five to ten years — Nintendo, watching Fox Sports, and social media have absolutely captivated the imagination of Australians. We’re absolutely eating and breathing NBA, NFL, you name it. We’ve just fallen in love with American culture and American sports. And the world has shrunk. We really believe with the wave of interest in Gridiron, we can put on a great show. Starting with a college game and hopefully make it into an annual event, or at least bring the NFL down.
That’s not to say college football has fully caught on. Last year, before Cal and Hawaii played Down Under, my Aussie colleague James Dator asked some Sydneysiders about the game:
-"College football? Is that like uni rugby?" - Billie, 27
-"I saw gridiron when it was last here. Are the Broncos coming again?" - Michael, 31
-"California and Hawaii are playing in Sydney? That’s bloody stupid." - Stephen, 22
-"I had no idea this was even happening." - Kate, James’ mum
The idea of mammoth collegiate athletics is foreign to most Australians. The idea of the money in college sports is even stranger. Sure, there are university teams, but nothing like you’re used to. It’s OK though, because you’ll win them over!
It’s a chance for Stanford and Rice to get exposure.
Treating players to a few days in Australia is objectively cool. Coaches can point to this experience in the future and tell recruits, “See, we do fun stuff here.” Without having polled either locker room, it seems certain that players are excited about the trip.
“For our football players, many of whom have never been abroad, this trip will be as much about experiencing a new culture as it will be about the game itself,” Owls athletic director Joe Karlgaard says.
Australia is a fertile recruiting ground.
A few skill players have made their way across the ocean in recent years, but the continent stands out for how well it produces specialists. There’s a kicker and punter pipeline:
For one thing, kicking a ball is common practice on Australian schoolyards. It's a regular lunchtime activity, and both rugby and Aussie Rules football require kicking.
"Growing up in that sort of environment, you’re getting thousands and thousands and thousands of reps every year," Steelers punter Jordan Berry, of Essendon, said.
"It’s windy, and you know you’re kicking it sideways rather than just doing a one-step, standard, two-step, straight-on punt," Berry said. "[It] helps you adjust a lot better when you do get put into tougher situations."
Maybe Stanford or Rice scoops up an Aussie specialist recruit as a result of the trip. Neither team has an Australian right now, but they’re all over the country. Their ranks include the last four Ray Guy Award winners as the nation’s top punter: Utah’s Mitch Wishnowsky and Tom Hackett (twice) and Memphis’ Tom Hornsey.
The money works out for both schools.
Both are private universities, not subject to the same public records laws as most. We don’t know the exact terms of the contract that moved the game from Rice’s campus in Houston to Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.
But neither school would’ve done it without a satisfactory financial guarantee.
It works out nicely for ESPN.
This is only a partial opening weekend. The majority of the country won’t be in action for another week. The noon start in Australia means a late-night TV option on the East Coast, a free alternative to the Mayweather-McGregor fight. Because Stanford’s playing, it even qualifies as a #Pac12AfterDark event.
We might get more Aussie rules football and rugby celebrations.
Here’s a reason for you to stay up.
Cal beat Hawaii in last year’s game. When the Bears scored touchdowns, they made sure to nod to local traditions, such as downing the ball in rugby:
And this official’s signal in ARF: