GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Under continuing criticism that it "overemphasizes athletics," the Atlantic Coast Conference has decided to add chess, bridge, crosswords and sudoku to its roster of public competitions.
ACC commissioner John Swofford explained that the Commissioner's Commission on Athletics and Competitive Academics had recommended the changes after analyzing the current list of athletic events and scientifically determining that they consistently reward physicality over mentality.
"Our analysis was surprisingly clear," said Swofford. "When you boil it down, football is big men carrying a ball; basketball is big men bouncing a ball, baseball is big men hitting a ball. And, although some might disagree, there is really very little deep thought involved in moving a small sphere from one place to another."
Swofford also noted that with the obvious, and apparently one-time, exception of Wake Forest's Muggsy Bogues, there has been up until now no place for the small person in ACC revenue sports, something heights-rights activists have long decried. Feminists are lauding the ACC's decision not to gender segregate these new "intelli-sports."
Outside experts say that while these changes have been brewing for some time, N.C. State's acceptance of head men's basketball coach Herb Sendek's resignation and hiring this spring of Sidney Lowe made it clear to ACC higher ups that the conference was moving in the wrong direction intellectually. (Editor's note: Sendek had a 3.95 GPA from Carnegie-Mellon, while Lowe, at the time, was a high school graduate.)
Adding events which eliminate balls was key to realignment, said Swofford. "Obviously, simply downplaying athletic prowess was not the answer. Up-playing intellectual endeavors is the better approach."
To make room for these intellectual contests on the TV schedule, Swofford says that the conference will be reducing the football schedule to eight from the current 11 games and reducing the basketball schedule from 14 to 10 conference games, making those stadia more available for chess, bridge, crosswords and sudoku competitions.
Massive new stadium videoboards has made the additions feasible. "The potential for chess has long been evident by the small crowds gathering at 'chess-in-the-park' venues, but the number of spectators has been limited to those with an unobstructed view. With 150-foot-wide videoboards, tens of thousands of roaring fans can now actively participate in live matches," said Swofford.
Although a final decision has not been made, insiders say that the stadium chess contests will feature modestly speed-timed games, best two out of three matches (like tennis), with two intermissions (like hockey). While consideration had been given to having traditional marching bands during the interludes, the conference currently is leaning toward a battle of the marching orchestras format.
One of the first signs that this move would be welcomed by students was evident in Duke's Krzyzewskiville, where students camping out for tickets for the UNC game had set up chess boards in the spaces between tents and were playing chess late into the night rather than holding drinking contests.
"We knew something was on when students missed the ticket distribution time because they were all crowded around a board watching Jeffrey Sussmann (the Cameron crazy who is usually the "D" in Duke) and Rajiv Chandrasekaran Gupta (the guy who wears the turban) as they whizzed through classic endgame moves reminiscent of Fisher and Spassky's first match in Iceland in July 1972," said Duke Athletic Director Joe Alleva.
Alleva says he is confident that Duke can get more students into Wallace Wade for a chess match than it does now for football.
Early indications are competitive academics will dramatically shift the dominance hierarchy within the ACC. Because of the glare which comes off beach sand, none of the proposed additions (chess, bridge, crosswords or sudoku) have never been popular at any of the Florida universities. Conversely, the success of Florida schools in football has long been explained as primarily a function of the weather and the attendant great grass-growing conditions there.
Experts say the cold and overcast conditions which keep students indoors all winter in New England will favor Boston College. They also say that the larger crania of their average students may favor Georgia Tech and Duke in the short haul, before other schools begin recruiting geeks and "eggheads" themselves.
Swofford said the suggestion, which was quickly dismissed, made by ACC-newcomer University of Miami to add Jai-Alai and dog racing to the intelli-sports schedule was apparently the result of their misapprehension of the term intellectual. According to the league office, calculating gambling odds is not generally considered a higher mental function. Florida State's request to add "Chutes and Ladders" was also declined.
Gary D. Gaddy, who attended Glenn Wilkes Basketball School for two weeks, played several years of Little League baseball and one season of JV football in high school, once beat Ludwig Wittgenstein in chess.
Non-errata: One of my knowledgeable and observant regular readers (that would be Moody Smith) says I could not have beaten Ludwig Wittgenstein at chess as I claimed in one of my many fine biographical blurbs since Wittgenstein died less than three months after I was born. Let me clarify: I did not say I beat the Ludwig Wittgenstein at chess; I said I beat Ludwig Wittgenstein. My Ludwig Wittgenstein was the Ludwig Wittgenstein's eccentric nephew. I beat him using a satisfying sucker sacrifice of my queen in a classic match in Zell am See, Austria, in the fall of 1971. I did not offer a rematch.
A version of this column first appeared in the Chapel Hill Herald, Thursday February 22, 2007. Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy