The integrity of the game vs protecting its stars

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Photo courtesy The Appalachian/Halle Keighton, Photographer

One of the best games of college football’s opening weekend came unexpectedly. The University of Tennessee, opening the season ranked No. 9 by the Associated Press poll, played host to Appalachian State. What was meant to be an early season tune-up for the Volunteers turned serious when near the end of the first quarter App State took a 7-3 lead.

After the Tennessee offense stalled once again, Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, in an attempt to make a big play to fire his team up, drilled the App State punt returner with a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit. Reeves-Maybin was ejected from the contest for targeting despite his status as the integral cog in the Volunteer defense. His absence was evident for the remainder of the game and Tennessee needed overtime to dispatch the Mountaineers.

This situation with Reeves-Maybin raises an intriguing question that crosses all sports: What is more important when teams take the field or the hardwood, the integrity of the game or protecting its most talented players?

In this case, the officials got it right. Whether or not you agree with the current definition of targeting or the punishment for it (which is immediate ejection regardless of context), the rulebook is clear. The officials were right not to take Reeves-Maybin’s prominent role on the field into account when determining the foul on the play.

The reputation of the player is something that is brought up frequently in regards to officiating in basketball. When rookies or lower-tier role players question a call or a non-call in their direction, they hear from coaches and commentators, “That’s not a call you’re going to get.”

Certainly when the average fan goes to a sporting event, they expect to see the star players play and perform up to par. When the best player on a basketball team fouls out of the game, for instance, the product on the court is diminished for the paying observer.

However, in fairness to all of the players and in respect to the rules of the game, preferential treatment shouldn’t be given based on skill level or relevance of an individual player.

Sometimes star treatment in sports means that the best players get fewer penalties called against them or more penalties called for them. In the case of Reeves-Maybin, it’s a question of star status versus player safety. No matter the situation, though, the name on the back of the jersey cannot be allowed to take precedence over the rules of the game nor the protection of its players.