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Old 11-03-2013, 12:02 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default NBA ref bias debunked

Think Twice Before Accusing an NBA Referee of Bias, Studies Suggest - Ryan Rodenberg - The Atlantic

Five years ago this month, the NBA released the Pedowitz Report, a 133-page tome authored by former federal prosecutor Larry Pedowitz that explored the extent to which real or perceived bias among officials permeates professional basketball. Like baseball’s Dowd Report in 1989, the NBA study was commissioned in response to a gambling scandal: NBA referee Tim Donaghy was found to be wagering on NBA games, including some that he officiated.

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The Pedowitz Report suggested that “a substantial number of team representatives believe that referees make calls, on occasion, based on personal bias [and] the potential for referee bias remains a threat to the integrity of the game.” A year after the Pedowitz Report was released, Donaghy emerged from an 11-month stay in a federal penitentiary with a book alleging different types of bias—sometimes aimed at specific players, other times at team personnel—among select former colleagues. The most prominent example, as Donaghy explained in detail during a 60 Minutes appearance, involved certain referees having it in for Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers. For some fans, Donaghy’s book only served to strengthen a long-standing suspicion. Others ceased to trust the NBA officiating apparatus entirely—an attitude that’s still pervasive today.

The Iverson-related claims were quickly debunked, but a number of statistically testable allegations remained, some of which pertained to players, and others of which related to coaches and team owners. In three recently published academic articles, I studied several narrowly focused allegations of bias involving certain NBA referees against a specific player (Tim Duncan), a coach (Pat Riley), and an owner (Mark Cuban).

I found nothing.

In other words, I found no systematic evidence of a referee’s personal animus negatively impacting the performance of the team in question.

In statistical parlance, my non-findings are known as null results. Researchers often struggle to publish such findings, creating what is commonly known as the “file drawer problem”—that is, the problem in which the public only sees the studies with the most eye-catching findings. But the dissemination of null results is critically important in a number of realms, including tests of NBA referee impartiality. A finding of “no bias” among on-court officials is what one should find if the referees are properly neutral. In other words, perhaps NBA referees deserve more credit than they’ve been getting.
I concede that my analytical model isn’t sensitive enough to pick up trace levels of bias at the individual game level. There is the insidious possibility that a referee who is consciously biased would reserve his or her ire for only the most critical moments during important games, thereby diluting any big-picture type of measure. I also recognize that the presence or absence of NBA referee bias plays a role among professional sports bettors, lending credence to such inquiries. In the wake of the 2007 NBA gambling scandal, the league implicitly acknowledged such a role when it moved to publish the identities of each game’s officials every morning on game day. Before that, the league kept referee information secret until only a couple of hours before the game, an act that served to create the specter of a market for inside information. Multiple experts acknowledge that referees can have a meaningful impact on the total points scored during a game, an outcome that can be wagered on in the form of over/under bets.

Certain claims of bias among basketball officials, though, can’t be empirically tested. They will always remain the topic of banter among suspicious sports fans. But for those allegations that can be researched, it’s important to disseminate all results—even those of the null variety. In addition to helping inform decision-making among various basketball constituents, such (non-)findings also serve to defend the integrity of NBA referees
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