Big Ten official heads East (way East)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's common knowledge that baseball is a huge hit in Japan, but apparently football also has started to catch on over there.

Longtime Big Ten official Bill LeMonnier is leaving Friday to conduct four officiating clinics in Japan next week. LeMonnier also will serve as the lead referee for the Global Challenge Bowl, held between Japan's junior national team (high school) and a traveling squad of American high school players.

"People here in the states would be surprised to learn that football took root in Japan 75 years ago," said LeMonnier, who has officiated Big Ten games since 1994 and worked three BCS bowls (two Fiesta, one Orange). "High school, college, and adult leagues participate at different times nearly year-round. The football is outstanding and the Japanese officials are as dedicated and committed as any here in the U.S."

LeMonnier refereed last year's Global Challenge Bowl in Japan and has also worked similar games in Panama and Mexico. He serves as an officiating consultant for USA Football, the sport's national governing body for youth and amateur levels.

The push to popularize football in Japan seems to be increasing, as former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz will lead a team of former Fighting Irish players against Japan's national team on July 25 in Tokyo.