When Nerds Turn Into Jocks


| Mar.-Apr. 2008


Calculating college recruiters entice the globe’s top players with full rides, generous stipends, and exclusive apartments. The stars rack up wins—and donations from gleeful alumni—but problems ensue. One recruit is caught in an underage Internet sex sting. Another stays on the team for eight years. Accusations of unfairness fly. Lesser teams like Harvard’s and Yale’s can’t afford the talent. And isn’t college sports supposed to be a young person’s game? What’s with all the 40-year-olds?

Welcome to the high-stakes world of collegiate chess. The American (Nov.-Dec. 2007) reports that a handful of little-known schools hoping to leverage success on the playing board into academic street cred are recruiting grand masters the world over, age and academic status be damned. Leading the pack are the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the University of Texas at Dallas, whose powerhouse teams have dominated the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship (think: NCAA basketball tournament) for the past nine years. Texas Tech, Florida’s Miami Dade College, and other second- and third-tier schools have followed suit, and the recruiting surge has critics crying foul. To clean up the sport, the United States Chess Federation in 2004 instituted checks including age caps and grade requirements. So Texas Tech’s reigning king, hoops coach Bobby Knight, should be safe for now.