On November 14th, the University of Washington Huskies made history when they became, along with their opponents the University of Texas Longhorns, the first ever US sports team, college or professional, to play a regular season game in China. The 2015-2016 season opener also gave players the opportunity to learn Mandarin and tour Chinese cultural sites. Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba is one of the sponsors of the game, in a move likely associated with the recent opening of its sports division as a means to provide coverage of US and other sporting events to an enthusiastic Chinese audience.
This historic game resulted from a partnership between the University of Washington’s conference, Pacific or Pac-12, and China’s Federation University of Sports (FUSC). Since 2012, the Pac-12, as part of its Globalization Initiative, has sent women’s and men’s basketball teams and women’s volleyball teams to play against Chinese teams and take part in cultural exchanges. Beginning in 2013, Pac-12 universities meet annually with Chinese counterparts at the US-China Symposium on Collegiate Sports Development in Nevada. During the 2014-2015 men’s basketball season, the Pac-12 became the first conference to stream men’s basketball games over the internet in China.
Though the University of Texas is itself not a member of the Pac-12, it nonetheless has a connection. Texas’ current athletic director, Steve Patterson, previously worked for a Pac-12 team at Arizona State University. In 2013, he brought Arizona State’s men’s basketball team to China through the Pac-12 Global Initiative program. Recognizing the impact it had on his Arizona players, Mr. Patterson saw the season opener against Washington as a prime opportunity for his Texas players to learn more about China.
Both the University of Washington and the University of Texas share additional ties with China beyond just sports. In June of 2015, the University of Washington announced its plans to build a Global Innovation Exchange institute with China’s Tsinghua University, which will open in the fall of 2016 with a master’s degree program in technology innovation. The institute will mark the first time a Chinese research university has established a physical presence in the United States.
The University of Texas currently has 23 study abroad programs with China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, focusing on a wide range of topics, from language study and business to traditional Chinese medicine and understanding the Chinese real estate market. There is also the possibility that the university will soon be affiliated with Peking University’s Globex program, after receiving an invitation from PKU’s Assistant Dean of Engineering in March 2015. Both the University of Washington and University of Texas also sent representatives to the US-China University Presidents Roundtable at Rice University in June 2015 to discuss further educational, research, and exchange opportunities with their Chinese counterparts.