The first time Bruce Lu attended a football game, he was a high school exchange student living in Kansas. He knew nearly nothing about the American sport when he climbed into the stands to cheer on his peers – basketball, after all, was the sport to watch in China.
What started as mere curiosity quickly led to a love. In the fall, the junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was given the opportunity to share that love for football with other Chinese students who, like Lu once was, are unfamiliar with the sport. An agricultural finance major, Lu joined with junior David He, a sports management major, to offer the university’s first Mandarin broadcasts of football games. All season, the pair worked to make Illinois games more accessible and appealing for the nearly 5,000 Chinese students at Illinois – 12 percent of the student population – as well as alumni overseas. They continued their efforts into basketball season.
“We wanted to bring game days alive,” says Mike Waddell, an Illinois senior associate director of athletics, who led the initiative. Waddell came up with the idea after attending one of the school’s Football 101 clinics, a program Illinois athletics began in 2013 to engage international students. With so many Chinese students on campus, Waddell imagined the benefits of broadcasting events in their native language.
Other schools, such as the University of Dayton and Indiana University, Bloomington, took note. At Dayton, 60 students responded to an initial call for commentators to cover basketball games, and six made the final cut. At Indiana, basketball games were divided among even more students, with each assigned to broadcast three or four.
While still in their infant stages, the programs have shown promise. Illinois, for instance, is thinking about expanding into other sports next year.
“There’s more work to do, more improvement to be made,” Lu says. “But I think the first step was successful.”
Student broadcasters in their words:
Junior sports management major, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
When I watch basketball or football, I will automatically do the commentating. My friends around me will say, “I should watch games with you every time.” My friends ask me to explain more about the NCAA, about the schedule, how the playoffs work. … Most of them really thank me for doing the broadcasts. It opened a brand new world for them. A lot of them, after listening to one or two games, went to the stadium to see a game.
Engineering graduate student, University of Dayton
I think this will make a lot of Chinese students get involved in the school activities. I know some of my friends only play with Chinese students, only talk with Chinese students, eat and do everything with them. But maybe if we broadcast in Chinese, they will say, “Oh, this is interesting. Maybe we can watch the game.” They will be proud of being a Flyer, so that’s good.
Junior management major, Indiana University, Bloomington
The first game, I was a little nervous. At home, you can dictate the pace, but in reality when you’re in the game, the ball and the players move at real-life speed, and you have to be fast and you have to be quick with your thoughts. That’s really difficult. This captures more of an audience for IU basketball. A couple people I know did end up buying tickets and started to develop an interest in basketball. As a basketball aficionado, that’s something I like to see.