Or something like that. The study, authored by Kyle Anderson of Indiana University's business school and David Pierce of Ball State's sports administration program, turned up several examples of officiating bias:
* The probability of a foul being called on the visiting team was 7 percent higher than on the home team.
* When the home team is leading, the probability of the next foul being called on them is about 6.3 percentage points higher than when the home team is trailing.
* The larger the foul differential between two teams, the greater the likelihood that the next call will be made against the team with fewer fouls. For example, when a home team has three or more fouls than the visiting team, the probability that the next foul call is made against the visiting team is more than 60 percent. When the foul differential is as high as five, then that probability rises to 69 percent. The researchers also observed this trend when they looked at neutral-court games.
The authors go on to draw some weird conclusions — namely that referee bias offers an untoward incentive for "aggressive play," which is probably true but so what? And because this is the age of Gladwell, everything, even an otherwise compelling study about referee bias, has to be reduced to an insipid management-consulting parable. "In terms of a management setting," Anderson explains, "it might be the slacker who benefits from the situation involving a manager who might not want to appear biased." (What?)
But this is valuable work anyway, if only because it further corrodes the wishful notion that referees can operate on some sort of frictionless plane where the normal human weaknesses don't apply. Tim Donaghy was saying roughly the same thing, only with fewer footnotes.
Send an email to Tommy Craggs, the author of this post, at email@example.com.