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Pac-12 Schedules China Basketball after RFRA Prompts NCAA to Consider Move from Indiana

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The Pac-12 Conference has announced what it is calling a “historic” deal with the online e-commerce company Alibaba to take the Washington Huskies and Texas Longhorns to play the first ever conference game in China.

The game scheduled for November 14 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai will be the first time any U.S. sports league–whether professional or college–will play a regular season game in China.

In April, the NCAA expressed concerns about keeping their headquarters in Indianapolis, and allowing the city to host future basketball tournaments, because of the since-amended Religious Freedom and Restoration Act’s impact on gays and lesbians. “Moving forward,” NCAA President Mark Emmert confessed last month, “we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

China, where, according the U.S. State Department, citizens encounter “extrajudicial killings,” “torture and coerced confessions of prisoners,” “forced abortion,” “forced and child labor,” and other human-rights abuses, escaped the controversy that surrounded the state of Indiana as the host of last month’s Final Four.

The deal was struck with on-line e-retailor Alibaba, a website that has become a world-wide, e-commerce powerhouse. Just on China’s “Single’s Day” holiday alone last year, Alibaba earned a staggering $9 billion. Founded by Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma in 1998, Alibaba earned $231 billion in 2014.

“We are proud to welcome Alibaba Group as a partner for our first-ever Pac-12 China Game,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said on Wednesday. “Alibaba’s innovative spirit and excellence are compatible with Pac-12’s values, and will be critical as we focus on growing our activities in China and providing our student-athletes with transformative educational and cultural experiences.”

Alibaba Group’s Senior Vice President Jim Wilkinson added, “We are proud to partner with the Pac-12 to bring this historic game to China. This game and Alibaba Group’s involvement is consistent with our commitment to bringing the best of the world to China, and showcasing the best of China to the world.”

“It’s hard to know from a historical context to tell which are the tipping points,” Scott continued. “But this feels significant to me. The fact that we are partnering with a company like Alibaba, the biggest E-Commerce company in the world, validates the vision and the significance of what we’re doing.”

Pac-12 officials see their introduction to the Alibaba audience as a major untapped fan and customer base. “There’s a lot of potential to expand in a lot of different ways. There’s a great foundation of interest, bringing the best from America to China,” Larry Scott admitted.

Pac-12 Commissioner Scott has been working on the deal with Alibaba since 2011.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com


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