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Jim Dey: Football coaches' quick job moves make athletes' point

Jan. 17—The merry-go-round is spinning.

Or is it the portal?

Whoever said "both" got it right.

Whether it's the lure of more cash, greater prestige or playing time, football coaches and basketball and football players are jumping ship at a rapid rate.

Do head coaches have no loyalty? Of course not. Did they ever? Only rarely — think Woody at Ohio State, Bo at Michigan and Bear at Alabama.

Fans have long grown used to successful college and NFL coaches looking for greener pastures. It's part of the business. After all, if you're hired to be fired, why not look out for No. 1?

But too many fans take a different approach when players jump, especially now that the functional equivalent of free agency has come to big-time college football and basketball.

They look back to the halcyon days when athletes were subject to the self-interested whims of NCAA and conference autocrats.

It was a good system for fans, teams, universities et al. But like the long-gone Major League Baseball reserve clause that tied players to teams until their teams didn't want them, it wasn't great for those doing the running, shooting and tackling.

Now the athletes are doing the same things as the coaches, and name, image and likeness money barely scratches the compensation surface for high-profile athletes.

Look at how fast the college coaching carousel started spinning again after Nick Saban retired after 17 years at Alabama.

The Crimson Tide hired Kalen DeBoer, the relatively new coach at the University of Washington. Until just a few days ago, DeBoer professed his love for UW. Now he loves 'Bama with all his heart.

News reports say DeBoer is taking his coaches and maybe some players with him.

A disappointed UW promptly hired Arizona's popular and successful new coach, Jedd Fisch. Same story there.

Both coaches were bound by long-term contracts. But that problem was nothing that a couple of multimillion-dollar buyout payments couldn't solve in a multibillion-dollar media environment.

So why shouldn't players — who do the real work — get their share?

The answer "just because" doesn't fly anymore. Neither do the words "student-athlete," a legal construct created to counter claims that players were actually employees.

Their long-delayed chance to cash in is more than a simple matter of dividing the spoils; it's a matter of law.

Is there a self-serving NCAA or conference rule that can survive legal scrutiny?

Bowing to reality, the NCAA decided athletes could enter the portal once and be immediately eligible. But it decided a second portal entry required a player to sit out a year — a mandatory redshirt — like in the old days.

But a federal court said no, that the rule represented a restraint of trade (player's talents and marketability) that violates federal antitrust law.

Antitrust issues on the football field? Darn right, especially when that field represents a big business.

The good old days are gone forever. In the meantime, it's the Wild West in the world of amateur/semi-professional sports — major change coming at a rapid pace.

It'll get squared away once everyone with a dog in the fight sits down to work out a deal. But it won't happen until the interested parties realize that what's good for the geese who once ran the show also is good for the ganders starring in it.