World of Sport

How a university spent $1 million to dominate a bizarre sport

World of Sport

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(@SusanPolgar on Twitter)

How hard can it be to dominate a university-level sport - particularly when that sport is chess?

It seems that it's harder than you'd ever imagine, if the obscene sums of money Webster University are chucking at the sport is anything to go by.

The vast outlay emerged when the college employed a new coach, Susan Polgar, who had been laughed and shown the door when asking for $1 million - or £595,000 - in funding of her previous employers at at Texas Tech University.

The money was apparently to cover her salary of $250,000, a further salary of $150,000 for her husband, with the going on expenses for her team.

$600,000 for expenses? What are they playing on - diamonds?

Texas Tech said no, and - as the Washington Post reported - Polgar simply decided to leave the school and have her wishes granted elsewhere.

Polgar took her entire team of grandmasters to Webster University in St Louis, Missouri, where such lavish spending on the sport is clearly regarded as value for money.

At least they got value for money, in a sense: since joining Webster, Hungarian-born Polgar (known as Zsuzsanna Polgár in her homeland) has led her team to two straight Final Four chess titles, and ridden out the furore over the money being spent on the minority sport.

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Susan Polgar and husband Paul Truong, Chess Olympiad 2008 (Photo: Gerhard Hund)

Webster is understood to spend $635,000-a-year on chess, including salaries and expenses - with the rest of the cash going on $24,000-a-year scholarships for the 15 players on her team.

Documents and emails published in a series of stories in Webster's student newspaper, the Journal, revealed Polgar's $250,000 salary demands to Texas Tech, with her husband - also a coach in the system - looking at $150,000-a-year.

Bonuses of $25,000 were reportedly set to be handed out for tournament wins while 34 full and partial scholarships were to be funded.

Polgar, a four-time women's world champion, is famous for making her players perform physical workouts to improve their concentration under strain and stamina.

Polgar has said in an interview that she and her husband were actually making "substantially less" than the offer presented to Texas Tech indicated, while remaining adamant that that was just one of the bids on the table from numerous schools.

Alan Sherman of rivals UMBC's chess team, rather depressingly, concedes that what Webster is spending is actually not as crazy as it may sound.

"It is the level of funding you need these days to have a really top-notch chess program," he told the Washington Post.

The question now being raised is whether there should be such spending on a chess program at a time when universities have had to cut back on student aid and general expenses.

"I think people are very happy that the chess team is doing awesome," said Jordan Fosburgh, a senior and president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.

"We just feel it’s unfair how much money they’re getting compared to what we’re getting."

Polgar, her husband and university officials, have all strongly defended the spending, of course, but it doesn't stop it becoming a legitimate debate about how schools distribute their financial resources.

Is it right for universities and schools to throw vast amounts of money at specific sports or is it reflective of warped priorities and reckless spending? Post your views below...

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