College football touches down in China

Updated: 2014-10-20 12:22

By Jack Freifelder in New York(China Daily USA)

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China got its first taste of American football this weekend as six teams vied for the China American Football League's inaugural CAFL University Championship.

The teams, all from Chinese universities, played in a round-robin tournament at the Chaoyang Sports Center in Beijing from Oct 15-18.

The club from Shandong Sport University, the last of the participating schools to establish a CAFL football program, won the first championship on Saturday by defeating the team from the Hebei Institute of Physical Education, 46-42.

The tournament was organized with cooperation and help from the CAFL and the Chinese Rugby Football Association (CRFA).

The event gave players a chance to showcase their skills ahead of the upcoming CAFL Draft, slated for spring 2015. The indoor professional league will start play next fall. Player combines, known more colloquially as tryouts, begin in early 2015. Athletes will be deemed eligible upon graduation from their respective universities.

"American football is coming to China; let the countdown begin," Marty Judge, co-founder of the CAFL, said in a league statement. "This is another step forward in our plan to bring American Football to China, and it's a moment that will be remembered. The athletes are ready, the coaches are ready, and of course, we're ready to kick off."

Judge, the founder of Judge Group Inc, a global professional services firm based in the Philadelphia area, has partnered with former National Football League (NFL) quarterback Ron Jaworski and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil, among others, to help bring indoor American football to fans in China.

Judge, who is also part owner of the Arena Football League's (AFL) Philadelphia Soul, told China Daily earlier that plans to bring the game to China have been in the works for several years.

The CAFL, which has preliminary plans for six to eight teams scattered across several major Chinese cities, will kick off in September 2015.

Each team will have a roster of 20 players, including 12 Chinese and eight Americans, and many of the participants, as well as coaches, will come directly from the AFL.

An agreement between Ganlan Media International (GMI), a Beijing-based global sport marketing company, and the CRFA announced the news on Aug 14.

Judge, who created GMI in 2010 and serves as its CEO, said the prevalence of arenas in China also makes the country a good candidate for the indoor version of football.

Jaworski, a football analyst with ESPN who is also a part owner of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul, told Bloomberg News in August that although there's no guarantee of success in China, he "strongly believes American football will meet the insatiable sports demand from the growing Chinese consumer base".

China is definitely not a market that most sports fans would associate with American football, but the CAFL and its constituents are trying to change that perception.

Ed Wang, vice-president of League Development for the CAFL, said in a press release on Oct 17: "[The Chinese players] are catching on to the strategy and some of the chesslike moves that are a part of this game. It's really cool to see that."

 College football touches down in China

Marty Judge (holding trophy), co-founder of the China American Football League (CAFL) presents the inaugural CAFL University Championship trophy to the Shandong Sport University Flames on Saturday at the Chaoyang Sports Center in Beijing.  Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 10/20/2014 page3)