TSW Q&A: Georgetown, Bethesda coach Dave Nolan pulls no punches on college recruiting
By Charles Boehm
Georgetown University head women’s soccer coach Dave Nolan runs an ambitious, competitive program, one that reached the Elite Eight stage of the NCAA tournament two seasons ago and perennially competes for top honors in the BIG EAST Conference. The Irish-born coach has led the Hoyas for the past eight years, during which time he’s brought some of the top players in the country to Washington, D.C.
But Nolan is no great fan of the current recruiting landscape in women’s college soccer – far from it, in fact. A wry, plain-spoken man who gets a glimpse of both sides of the issue thanks to his ancillary duties as a coach for elite Maryland youth club Bethesda SC, Nolan declines to follow the current trend which has seen NCAA coaches recruit among younger and younger age groups and seek verbal commitments as early as players’ sophomore year in high school.
And when The Soccer Wire chatted with him after one of Bethesda’s Under-16 ECNL matches at last month’s Elite Clubs National League Showcase event in Zarephath, N.J., the topic of recruiting prompted him to deliver a stinging rebuke to the system’s status quo. We thought Nolan’s critique of the situation – which he believes has been collectively created by club coaches, parents, players and even members of the media like us – made for must-read content, so we’re sharing it in our latest TSW Q&A.
The Soccer Wire: How are things shaping up for the Hoyas this year?
Dave Nolan: Ehh, I’ll tell you more in August! We’ll see. We had a good spring. We lose a lot. I think we scored 55 goals last year, and I think 40 graduate [Georgetown’s 2011 attack was led by seniors Ingrid Wells, Camille Trujillo, Samantha Baker and Kelly D’Ambrisi].
So we’ll be better at the back, we’ll be better in goal. But we have a couple of special players, that I think will be a little bit further ahead maybe than some people would expect, considering what we lost. I think people are looking at us like “Georgetown will be down for a few years,” but I don’t think the gap will be what people may hope.
TSW: How do Georgetown’s high academic standards complicate your recruiting? Some schools comparable to GU have “six semester” requirements in terms of admissions [meaning that a recruit must complete three years of strong high school coursework before even being eligible for consideration and admission].
DN: We have an eight-semester requirement. Unfortunately the recruiting world we live in means that everything is done on a promise. That’s what a variable commitment is: it’s a commitment from a kid – “Coach, I promise I’m going to apply to your school” – and it’s a commitment from a coach – “I promise I’m going to support you through the admissions.”
It’s a promise. I promised five girls I’d go out with them on a Saturday night, I’ve got to pick one eventually. So I wish the recruiting world would just slow down, and kids wouldn’t get swept along with this. But unfortunately, it seems to be where we are right now, and it seems to be only getting worse, which is frightening. These kids committing before the end of their sophomore year, that’s ridiculous.
And no disrespect, but it’s guys like you two [referring to your correspondent and ESPNHS writer Sheldon Shealer, also present] and your websites that foster that environment, with your rankings and your reporting on it, and you’re part of the problem, to be honest.
Shealer: [chuckling] It was happening before.
DN: Oh, it does, but you’re part of the problem. And I’m not sure if it’s ever going to change, because it’s now out of the box and it’s never going to go back.
TSW: Many coaches seem to be more afraid of the NCAA’s response to the situation than the situation itself.
DN: I don’t expect the NCAA to do anything. They have rules, they have rules. But the problem is, there are always ways to circumvent the rules, there’s always ways to hide in the gray area, and that’s what coaches do. They hide in the gray area, and there’s always somebody looking to stay ahead of the rule. So the talk of, if we move up the first contact date to, instead of it being September 1 of your junior year, if we move it up to March of the sophomore year, you’ll always get someone [who says] “Everyone else is working off the March deadline, I’m going now to work off the December deadline.”
The problem is the mentality in the soccer community. And it’s not just coaches, it’s not just the big, bad soccer college coaches looking to put pressure on kids. It’s parents, it’s club coaches, it’s all that goes with it. And it’s wrong. Boom. It is what it is. I’m not preaching any more.
TSW: Some of these girls seem to enjoy the sense of security that comes with being committed.
DN: I disagree. It’s not the sense of the security, it’s the relief of the pressure being off. And the fact that there was that kind of pressure in that decision, is what’s wrong. There shouldn’t be that pressure. The kids should get a chance to visit five schools, per NCAA official visits, and then pick their school based on that. There’s no pressure. They meet five groups of people, they develop relationships with five different schools, and they pick a school, and everyone wishes everyone good luck at the end of it.
Now it’s not happening like that. Kids aren’t getting the chance to make those visits, kids aren’t getting the chance to see what may be on the table, whether it be financial or academically. And it puts the more academic schools at a huge disadvantage, quite frankly. And it puts the Ivies [Ivy League schools], and the Georgetowns and the Dukes, and the Stanfords to some extent, at a huge disadvantage, because there’s no SATs, there’s no full-year sophomore grades.
Anyone that’s making decisions with just four semesters, just freshman, sophomore grades – most kids don’t take tougher classes until their junior year. Most kids don’t take their test scores until their junior year. Anyone that’s making that – there’s a huge risk to that. But today, people seem to be willing to take that risk, and people maybe aren’t quite aware, because they just want to hear what they want to hear. If a coach says “Hey, you’ve got a chance,” they hear it as “Oh, I’m golden.” When he says, “You’ve got a chance,” there’s also a chance that it won’t. And that has happened, and it will continue to happen, and you’ve got kids left scrambling, and that’s wrong.
TSW: There seems to be a lot of camaraderie among college coaches at an event like this, but isn’t there also a keen sense of competition in pursuing recruits?
DN: Yeah, but, there’s about 25 blue-chip players every year. And after that, player 26 through player 126, there’s not much to choose between them, in my opinion. And it’s usually intangibles that you don’t get to know until after you’ve worked with somebody or spend time around them, or you watch them over a prolonged period of time. That’s recruitment. Everyone can look at the great players on the field here and say, “Oh, she’s a great player.”
But it’s the other kids, it’s the other kids, they need more time to show what they can do, what they have. Because everyone can pick out the top 25. They’re out with the U-17 [Women’s National Team] right now. But it’s that next 100, there’s not much to choose between.