On most U.S. college campuses, fall Saturdays are game days. Outside the football stadium, students, local residents and alumni “tailgate,” or barbecue food and drink beverages, before the game. Fans bring signs to cheer on their team. “People in Nebraska go crazy for football. The whole town of Lincoln is painted red [the University of Nebraska’s team color] on Saturday,” said P.J. Martinez, a graduate student there.

For students from other countries accustomed to international football (known as “soccer” in the U.S.), American football’s rules can seem confusing. The social scene around a big game can be intense. Martinez said that some international students even find it “intimidating.”

International students get a close-up look at American football gear. (Courtesy of University of Oklahoma)

That’s why many U.S. colleges host annual “Football 101” events: informal sessions, not for credit, intended to help international students learn football basics.

Football 101 events vary with each school. But generally, students learn the essentials, such as touchdowns, field goals and extra points. They also learn about penalties for infractions, such as pass interference. Students try on the uniform pads and helmets and learn school cheers. Soon, they feel at home on game day.

According to Blake Kuenzi, an equipment manager for the University of Oklahoma’s football team, international students often try to relate football to soccer … until they attend a Football 101 event. “Now, when they walk by the stadium, they understand what goes on there and they’re more likely to get involved,” he said.

A Chinese student straps on a helmet at Colorado State University. (Courtesy of Anna Gerber)

Colorado State University’s Football 101 day “provides a bridge to American culture,” said Mark Hallett, a director of International Student & Scholar Services at the school. He said students often become more involved, not only in attending football games, but in other school events and clubs, once they’ve learned the basics of the sport.

In recent years, international students have taken football back to their native countries, increasing the sport’s global popularity. Many have even become fans of U.S. professional football teams. The National Football League’s championship game, the Super Bowl, is broadcast in more than 100 countries. Learn the basics before this year’s big game on February 1.