Athletes feel shafted over Webster chess billboard


Written by Kevin Miller, a Webster University basketball player

As a current student athlete at Webster University, I am questioning how much support our athletics department actually has from the university. It really hit me that the athletics department may not be fully supported by the school after a billboard went up that stated Webster’s “top recruits” are members of the chess team.

Nothing should be held against the chess team for getting a billboard posted of them, because they truly are successful and deserve the recognition. But the issue, that upset most of the athletes on campus is that Webster’s Marketing Department chose to dress the chess team in athletic gear with matching uniforms, a headband and eye black on the billboard. By doing so, Webster directly compared the chess team, which does not compete as a part of the athletics program, to the rest of the athletes on campus.

Unfortunately, this billboard is not being seen in the right light. I don’t think the billboard’s message is the main focus of why the athletes are upset. As Division III (D-III) athletes, our  main issue with this billboard is the money.

The average student athlete pays between $12,000 and $23,000 a year to attend Webster and play sports. If the chess players are portrayed as the top recruits on campus, then why doesn’t the athletics department receive any of the financial benefits that the chess team gets from the university?

Julian Schuster, Webster University’s provost, told the New York Times last year that the chess team would be funded by Webster’s endowment. Along with this funding, future chess players have the opportunity to receive full-ride scholarships for chess (Webster athletes are unable to receive any athletic scholarships). This funding makes me wonder why my school can’t find funds to support our athletics department, which needs better facilities and lacks travel funds.

The baseball team has made it to the D-III College World Series for two consecutive years, and some players have to work near full-time jobs just to fundraise for their team to compete in Florida. The baseball players work their butts off every season trying to improve themselves.

In addition to offseason workouts, the players work countless hours fundraising – whether that’s by flipping burgers at a Rams game or waking up at 5 a.m. to work marathons in St. Louis. In my eyes, the baseball team deserves a good amount of financial support from the school based on their accomplishments and hard work.

The main issue I have with the chess team being favoured by the school is the lack of facilities our athletics department has for student athletes and the other students who want to come in and have a good workout.

Delegates’ Agendas always begin the meeting talking about how they take pride in comparing our university to other schools like Washington University, University of Missouri or Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Out of all three of the mentioned schools, we have the worst athletic facilities, by far,  for our students to take advantage of.

Webster offers full-ride scholarships on top of the chess team’s funding. So, why can’t we receive money for a new fitness center, locker rooms, practice facilities or athletics offices?

At the end of the day, the new billboard, which was meant to be humorous, is not a very humorous subject for other Webster athletes on campus who pay good money to go here. The athletics department as a whole feels slighted by the university they represent due to the disrespect the school has shown by putting up such a billboard. It’s time for the real recruits on campus to get the recognition they deserve with better facilities, more funding and proper pay for coaches.



Editors Note: According to Patrick Gibblin, director of public relations, no chess player currently has a full-ride scholarship. Last year multiple news sources reported Webster gave out full-ride scholarships for the 2012-2013 school year.


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  1. A single important question must be answered here: Does the Webster University administration consider chess a sport? If so, then the chess team should theoretically be under the constraints of the athletic budget. If not, then the athletes’ complaints are invalid. What the athletes appear to be upset about is that Webster university clearly does not consider chess a sport for funding purposes, but it does consider chess a sport for marketing purposes (a case of having their cake and eating it too). Chess players get dismissed by basketball and football players for not being “real” athletes. Well, the basketball players and football players at Webster University can’t have it both ways, either. They can’t treat chess as a non-sport and also claim its money. Clearly the university’s administration finds chess competition important, perhaps even more important than the “real” sports at the university, because money talks. What I say is this: Respect chess for the real sport it is — a mind sport — and along with this respect should come the constraints of the rest of Webster’s athletic budget. But as long as chess remains a non-sport, don’t complain about its superior funding. The dress of the chess players on the billboard is just a metaphor (maybe not a good one, but an attempt). When basketball and football coaches refer to a “chess game” on the field or court, does anyone complain? No. Chess, in this context, is being used as a metaphor too (again, not necessarily a good one). The billboard image is just a metaphor. Unless the football and basketball players are serious about trading their respect for cash, I see no reason why the physical sports deserve to share funding derived from the chess team’s fortune.

  2. Yes, how sad that the chess team was not given its due respect, and was made to dress up like sports figures in order to otherwise enjoy the glory that they had earned. that’s what you really meant to say, wasn’t it? Not whining about how much recognition/money you wanted at heir expense?

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