Wednesday, January 03, 2007

University of Maryland, Warsaw County

What with red shirt freshman, no show classes and "special" tutoring, big time college athletics strays far from the ideal of inter-school amateur competition. While most everyone knows that this is the case when watching football, basketball and hockey there's been little mainstream discussion of the problems which have plagued college chess. Instead, most of the coverage of college championships over the past few years has used the "little school from nowhere beats Harvard" theme. Of course the "little school", more often than not, is from Baltimore or Dallas.

This article in the Washington Post on the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship starts with the same "beating up on the Ivies" premise, but does afford a couple of paragraphs to the somewhat questionable practices which were used to build UMBC and UTD into chess powerhouses:
The room is thick with tension and intrigue, born partly of the controversy that has surrounded some of the more excessive recruiting practices. As recently as three years ago, several teams, particularly UMBC and UT Dallas, were paying full scholarships, plus cash stipends, to grandmasters as old as 40. Players had nominal course loads and took as long as eight years to graduate.

The overlords of collegiate chess introduced reforms, including a rule against grandmasters over age 25, a six-year limit on competing and a requirement that players maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.0 and at least a half-time course schedule. But UMBC and UT Dallas have stayed dominant by recruiting players from countries including Russia, Poland and India. UMBC's top two players are over 25, grandfathered in under the old rules.

Some players still think the game is rigged. "It's just buying players and championships, and that's not appropriate," said Johnny Sadoff, a Harvard student from Silver Spring. "They should be legitimate students."

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