Jeff Van Gundy has never been one to hide his opinions on the air, no matter how many feathers he may ruffle.
While calling ESPN’s Wednesday night NBA tilt between the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves, Van Gundy launched into an extended rant where he criticized college basketball as a whole and called the concept of a student-athlete “nonsense.”
The tirade began midway through the fourth quarter when the Warriors had the game well in hand, prompting Van Gundy and broadcast partner Dave Pasch to steer the conversation elsewhere to fill the air time.
It all started with Van Gundy questioning the purpose of two college teams, UCLA and Georgia Tech, traveling to China to face off in a game. Presumably, this was on his mind because of the bizarre story of three UCLA players being arrested in China after reportedly being questioned for stealing from a Louis Vuitton store.
“Why is UCLA and Georgia Tech in China to play a basketball game? Missing all that school, then force-feeding their fans the idea of student-athletes. If it’s such a cultural excursion, what is UCLA doing in the Louis Vuitton sunglass section?” Van Gundy asked. “They can do that in Beverly Hills. You’re in charge of that league, I’ll tell you what the answer is, money. They’re trying to sell something to get more money.”
It’s worth noting that Van Gundy’s employer, ESPN, is the network carrying that UCLA-Georgia Tech game.
The conversation continued.
Pasch responded: “Part of the Pac-12 initiative to play in China, done it last three years. Don’t like them going overseas to play?”
Van Gundy: “Then stop the nonsense about student-athletes.”
All told, the conversation went on for about five minutes and even spanned a commercial break, but Van Gundy’s stance on the issue was clear: he doesn’t buy into the student-athlete label.
And the conversation even went a step further when Pasch asked his broadcast partner about the federal investigation that has cast a dark cloud over the college basketball world in recent months. The investigation alleges coaches and sneaker executives have devised a system to secretly pay top-notch recruits.
“First of all, people involved in college basketball always knew that college basketball was dirty in recruiting end of it. This is no shock to them. Now you have to act shocked because that plays better, but everybody knew there were irregularities. I don’t know if anybody knew or how far this is going to go. Or that the FBI was involved. But I’ll give you an example. You said Georgia. Mark Fox is always criticized recruiting, he can’t keep the Georgia kids home. What that means, he’s not cheating and paying. That’s what it means.”
He would probably know. Before coaching the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, Van Gundy was an assistant for two different college hoops teams, Providence and Rutgers. At Providence, he was a graduate assistant under Rick Pitino, who was recently fired as Louisville’s head coach for the very sort of shady recruiting activity Van Gundy was referring to.
Clearly, these tumultuous times for college basketball have hit home for Van Gundy.