Tom Sorensen

Welcome to 21st century, NCAA; Cam Newton and the Panthers enter an important Phase 3

The NCAA recently voted to change the rules that prohibit its athletes from being compensated for their name, image and likeness.
The NCAA recently voted to change the rules that prohibit its athletes from being compensated for their name, image and likeness. AP

Senators can be so silly. This is what N.C. Sen. Richard Burr posted on Twitter:

“If college athletes are going to make money off their likenesses while in school, their scholarships should be treated like income. I’ll be introducing legislation that subjects scholarships given to athletes who chose to ‘cash in’ to income taxes.”

This Tweet brought to you by the year 1954.

Should we then, Sen. Burr, tax those who make money off college athletes? Should we tax schools and coaches? How about those who derive enjoyment from the players’ work? Should we tax them?

The NCAA’s board of governors voted unanimously to change the rules that prohibit its athletes from being compensated for their name, image and likeness. The board did this because the NCAA is full of (sarcasm alert) fair and caring people. The board did this because California passed a law that says, starting in 2023, athletes can benefit from the use of their name, likeness and image, and because similar laws have been proposed in other states, among them North Carolina.

The NCAA’s initial response to the California legislation: California schools will not be allowed to participate in the bowl games and basketball tournaments we sponsor. That’s the organization we know and love.

I’ve long advocated that athletes in revenue producing sports, football and men’s basketball, be paid. Strikes me as inherently unfair that coaches can make $9 million a year for leading a team, but athletes don’t receive a dime for playing on one.

Some of us believe that college athletes should begin the day by dropping to both knees and thanking their institution of higher learning for having them.

Some of us don’t get it.

Athletes in some collegiate sports help generate millions of dollars and convince adults to, say, pay $2,500 to $4,999 to qualify for Virginia Tech’s Golden Hokie Club. (Always liked the way those words came together, Golden and Hokie.)

To look at them as Sen. Burr does, as raw material that should be taxed for compensation above and beyond tuition, books and board, is antiquated.

The NCAA reminds me of parents back in the 1960s who fought the rock & roll to which their children listened. Society changes, and often those changes are good. Compensating players is good.

The NCAA and its members have long taken advantage of student-athletes. Finally, due to the progressive perspectives of certain lawmakers, student-athletes will be compensated.

Will they get what they deserve? Nah. This is going to be a mess. But it’s a start.

A near-perfect week

How’d I do in my NFL picks last week? Thanks for asking.

Last Week: 14-1

Season: 78-42-1

Lock of the Week: Seattle (-3½) over ATLANTA. Seattle won 27-20.

Season Lock: 4-4

Last week I almost picked them all correctly. The Chicago Bears were on the Los Angeles Chargers’ 21. They had just picked up a first down, and 53 seconds remained. Instead of running a play, the Bears took a knee, which has been their philosophy all season. Kicker Eddy Pineiro, who been good for a Chicago kicker, missed from 41 yards, and the Bears lost 17-16.

If Pineiro makes the kick, I’m 15-0.

But I have a rule: Never whine or complain after picking 14 of 15 games correctly and getting your Lock.

My Week Nine picks, with the home team in CAPS:

Thursday

San Francisco 9 over ARIZONA

Sunday

New York Jets 4 over MIAMI

BUFFALO 9 over Washington

CAROLINA 2 over Tennessee

Minnesota 6 over KANSAS CITY

PHILADELPHIA 6 over Chicago

PITTSBURGH 3 over Indianapolis

SEATTLE 9 over Tampa Bay

OAKLAND 3 over Detroit

Green Bay 5 over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Cleveland 3 over DENVER

BALTIMORE 2 over New England

Monday

Dallas 6 over NEW YORK GIANTS

Lock of the Week

Houston (-1½) 6 over Jacksonville (in London)

Panthers entering important Phase 3

We have now entered Phase Three of the Carolina Panthers’ season.

Phase One lasted two games, both losses (by a total of nine points), both at home, to the Los Angeles Rams and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Cam Newton started both and moved like a less-mobile Rodney Peete. Newton insisted his health was fine, and his coaches and Carolina’s medical staff apparently believed him. But Newton’s passing was inconsistent, his running was inconsequential, and the results were terrible.

Fans would write daily that coach Ron Rivera must go, and some suggested he take everybody with him.

Then began Phase Two, and in the season’s third game, the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Arizona by 18. Thus did the streak begin. They beat the Houston Texans in Houston by six, the Jacksonville Jaguars in Charlotte by seven, and Tampa Bay in London by 11. Then came their bye.

The Panthers didn’t just win. They pillaged. Their defense line overwhelmed every offensive line that attempted to stop them. Statistically, the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers dominated the NFL’s defensive categories. But Carolina’s rush was so good that quarterbacks lacked the time to exploit whatever weaknesses the Panthers had.

Phase Two also was the beginning of the Kyle Allen Era. Allen, 23, was undrafted and unheralded. But he played with remarkable poise. He started all four Phase Two victories.

Allen didn’t throw an interception. Well, he threw one, but a penalty negated it. He didn’t crack. He played as if he loved being on the field in games that mattered, and loved playing an important role for a winning team.

Almost all the stuff about how Rivera must go ended. The Panthers won four straight for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 2016.

Phase Three began last week against the San Francisco 49ers. Carolina’s offense didn’t work and the defense didn’t work, the Panthers were pummeled and pushed around, and they lost 51-13.

The Panthers couldn’t handle San Francisco’s rush, and were slow to adjust. San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa played as if he’d been invited to a function in Carolina’s backfield, and the Panthers let him in. Rookie Dennis Daley, a sixth-round pick, was overmatched against the rookie Bosa, the draft’s No. 2 pick. Coaches didn’t give Daley much help.

Fans again announced that Rivera must go, and take a bunch of coaches with him.

The Panthers are, one game short of the middle of their season, better than I expected. Their defense is better than I expected. But they are not world-beaters, and that’s been evident from the start.

Last season, the Panthers lost 52-21 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their ninth game, and came undone. They then lost to the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay, the Cleveland Browns, the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons.

I don’t see them stumbling after the humiliating San Francisco loss the way they did a season ago. But the schedule gets tougher and the only way they get through it is when Newton turns healthy and he again is entrusted with the offense.

Allen has had a good run. He is everything a backup quarterback should be. To accomplish what he has, with as little experience – the man couldn’t hold a starting job in college – is impressive.

The Panthers get to play Atlanta twice and the Washington Redskins once. Those aren’t games. Those are opportunities.

They also play the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts on the road, and Seattle and New Orleans at home. They’ll be underdogs in the three road games and could be underdogs in Charlotte against the Seahawks and Saints. They could be underdogs in five of their final eight games.

Carolina’s defense will keep it competitive. But as the difficulty of the schedule increases, so does the pressure on its 23-year-old quarterback.

The Arizona game was Carolina’s most important game, because they would not have recovered from an 0-3 start.

The second most important game of the season is Sunday. The longer Phase Three lasts, the more quickly the opportunity to make the playoffs ends.

Remembering Rhys

My ex-wife and I rescued three greyhounds when we were married, one at a time. Rescued, however, has always struck me as one-sided and pretentious. We gave the dogs a home. They gave us love, laughs and affection.

We brought home the last of the three, Rhys, when we were still together, and now we have joint custody. She gets him much more than I, and should, because I have a condo, and she has a yard. Greyhounds need room to move.

Rhys is red, and the son of a dog who was a champion racer in England and Ireland. He’s not as fast as his dad, but he’s fast. His record is easy to find. Identifying numbers are tattooed in blue in each ear.

Rhys is an athlete. When he saw me run (before my legs retired from running), he looked embarrassed. Greyhounds have standards. He’s powerful, too. We saw a rabbit poke its head out of a bush, and as I hung on I felt as if I was water-skiing. He has no interest in ducks or cats. But after chasing a mechanical rabbit all those years around central Florida greyhound tracks, it was his turn.

Rhys is sweet and silly, and loves kids and women. I have a convertible, and when the top is up, he won’t get in that car. So if you saw a grey (the dealer calls it dolphin) convertible with a red dog, top down, three of four windows up, and the heat blasting from the front and back, it probably was us.

We put Rhys down Wednesday. Greyhounds almost always develop arthritis, a byproduct of a racing life comprised of left turns. He was 9-years-old, and had a limp that would not go away no matter what the vet tried. He was in great pain. Some breeds are susceptible to cancer.

When I hear or read about people putting down their dog, greyhound or otherwise, I choke up every time. We get it, we dog people, get that the dogs are more than pets. They are family.

Rhys is -- I’ll stick with the present tense -- funny and fast, beautiful and muscular and lean. When he was young, he repeatedly would smack into our big glass patio doors. Finally, we used masking tape to make a big X on the glass. He figured it out.

I could tell you about his antics and adventures, nature walks and convertible rides. I could tell you how put-upon he became when the doors to Harris-Teeter opened for him, certainly an invitation to step inside, and I didn’t let him.

I could tell you how, when I pulled out of the driveway drove away from the house, he’d stick his face into the glass front door for a final look, so sad and forlorn that I had to fight the urge to turn back. He’d always leave a smudge.

Rhys and his mom moved about 25 miles away and, except when my ex-wife was out of town, these last years I didn’t see him as much as I had. That’s my fault, not hers. But I had him for a week this fall. As is his custom, we walked four times a day, sometimes in Elizabeth and sometimes near SouthPark, around a pond, along trails, over bridges and past Harris-Teeter.

Greyhounds are marvelous dogs and marvelous friends. We found all there of ours at Greyhound Friends of North Carolina, which is in Oak Ridge, about 18 miles northwest of Greensboro.

GFNC holds meet-and-greets with the dogs, and if you decide to leave without one, your children probably won’t. GFNC will hold November meet-and-greets in Matthews and Charlotte.

For more information, go to http://www.greyhoundfriends.com.

They’re cool, these greyhounds. And when it’s time for them to move on to Rainbow Bridge, you walk out of the vet’s with your head all the way down and think, “I can’t do this again.”

Later, however, you think not about your time without him, but your time with him.

I hope later comes soon.

Hornets owe us hope, not victories

The Charlotte Hornets are the perfect team for trolls.

When the Hornets lose, trolls can say: “They’re losers, why should I care?”

When he Hornets win, trolls can say: “Man, are they stupid. Don’t they want the No. 1 pick in the draft? They’re playing themselves out of it.”

The Hornets won’t win much this season. But trolls will go undefeated. They might celebrate by going outside.

The Hornets have treaded water since the expansion Charlotte Bobcats came to Charlotte in 2004. Some seasons they were remarkably bad, which means their pick in the ensuing draft was remarkably good.

But lately they’ve beached up on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Some seasons, they slip into the playoffs. But they are guests, never winning a series.

So they’ve chosen to become bad so they can get a high pick, or picks, and then theoretically become good. They aren’t tanking. Taking is not allowed. Being young is allowed. The Hornets are young.

They’ll have moments, as they did in their season opener at Spectrum Center, when they beat the Chicago Bulls 126-125. Many fans walked out smiling. I did.

They had moments against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, trailing by one at the half and seven after three quarters. This was the team of LeBron James and Anthony Davis they were playing. Davis finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds, LeBron with 20 points and 12 assists. The Hornets hustled and hung in, but the Lakers beat them by 19. Talent decides.

The Hornets don’t owe us victories, not this season. They owe us hope. They owe us a plan. When we walk out of the gym, we need to be able to say, “Ah, I see what you’re doing. I see the team you want to be.”

And when they win, regardless of how it affects their standing in the lottery, I’ll take it. I’ll take it every time.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Observer columnist.
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