Imagine if, just after winning the 2005 BCS championship, University of Texas football coach Mack Brown not only took another job, but Vince Young transferred to Brown’s new school.
Well, something much like that has just happened to Texas Tech’s “Knight Raiders,” the school’s number one ranked, defending national champion chess club. Coach Susan Polgar is leaving Lubbock for St. Louis’s Webster University, and she’s taking at least ten Tech students or recruits—eight Grandmasters and two International Masters—up to Missouri with her. (And in case you were wondering, the name comes from the chess piece, not former hoops coach Bobby Knight, the team’s website helpfully explains.)
A five-time Olympic chess champion and four-time world record holder, Polgar began the program—and her Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE)—in 2007, creating an instant powerhouse. Because of SPICE, world-class players from around the world enrolled in Tech, making the it the first school in the history of college chess to make the Final Four every year of its existence.
But according to Tiffany Pelt of KCBD, the club never had more than $30,000 total available for scholarships.
Polgar’s husband, Paul Truong, a coach and SPICE’s director of marketing and public relations, told Summer Chandler of the Daily Toreador that Webster offered a more international presence (it has campuses in Austria, China, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United Kingdom), as well as more money for scholarships:
“We are, in a way, the enemy of our own success. I don’t think anybody — us or the administrators of the university — could ever expect how fast the program grew,” he said. “And, unfortunately, when you are a state institution, you know, the president, or let’s say the provost or the chancellor, cannot just make a decision that, ‘OK, tomorrow I am going to give you a million dollar budget for chess.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
The ten students following Polgar to Missouri are from Germany, the Phillipines, Mexico, Iran, Israel, Brazil, Hungary and Azerbajian, plus one from Florida.
As Stephen Deere and Valerie Schremp Hahn of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported, St. Louis is also home to “the U.S. Chess Championships, the country’s No. 1 rated player and the World Chess Hall of Fame.”
Tech spokesman Chris Cook told Adam D. Young of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that the school had turned down Polgar’s offer to keep herself and SPICE affiliated with the Knight Raiders, but that the university “is committed to expanding its chess program,” with increases in staff and funding, as well as a new director.
Jon Mark Beilue of the Amarillo Globe-News, a TTU alum himself, expects big things:
I wouldn’t expect Tech chancellor Kent Hance to take this lying down. Hance hails from another U.S. chess hotbed, Dimmitt, and may have one or two unexpected moves up his sleeves.
Normally, I would say let’s get Webster on the football schedule and exact some revenge, but the way the 2011 season ended, I’m not so sure that’s a wise move. But, please, Webster, leave our meat judging team and Law School moot court team alone. Right now, that’s about all we got.
Beilue is only half-kidding. As Cook told Campbell of the Daily Toreador when asked if the chess team could have been better funded:
“We have a lot of successful programs and they all deserve more, they all do,” he said. “I can’t answer that question on chess accurately without knowing the exact figures. We have other national championships across the board: moot court, livestock judging, meat judging. There are a lot of them. We have a lot successful programs and I think they are all treated very fairly.”
Tech (along with the state’s even longer-standing chess power, the University of Texas at Dallas) have both qualified for the upcoming Final Four on March 31 and April 1. Polgar will join Webster on June 1.