College chess becoming more like football and basketball?

Susan Polgar and her entire national championship Texas Tech chess team transferred to Webster University in 2012.

Paul Truong

You may remember a bizarre story two years ago about a Texas Tech chess coach and her entire team transferring to another school.

Like nearly everything in college athletics, their move was about money.

Susan Polgar coached the "Knight Raiders" to back-to-back national championships in 2011-12. Shortly after their second consecutive title, Webster University in St. Louis lured them away.

"The program grew rapidly, and Texas Tech wasn’t ready to grow with the speed of the program," Polgar told the Associated Press in 2012. "St. Louis today is the center of chess in America. It just seemed like a perfect fit."

But how much did would it have taken for the team to stay in Texas?

According to documents recently obtained by Webster University’s The Journal, Polgar requested that Texas Tech give her $1 million in funding, including a $250,000 salary for herself and a $150,000 salary for her husband.

Polgar didn’t get her wish and went on to continue winning national championships at Webster.

Chess isn’t exactly a high-profile game, but some wonder if it’s starting to become like the rest of college sports.

"Are we just starting another version of what’s happened in the football or basketball arena?" Richard Vedder, an Ohio University professor, told The Washington Post. "I think we are, even though the stakes are smaller."

Nobody’s trying to build bigger and better stadiums in the world of chess, but some big bucks are still needed to be among the nation’s elite.

The University of Maryland Baltimore County is also a chess powerhouse, however, it doesn’t spend nearly as much as Webster.

UMBC professor Alan Sherman, who started the chess program at the university, told The Washington Post that Webster outspends them 4 to 1. But despite all the money spent, he says it’s necessary in the game today.

"It is the level of funding you need these days to have a really top-notch chess program," Sherman said.  

Maybe it won’t be long until we’re watching chess along with college football and basketball in primetime.

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