Academic journal article Human Organization

Keeping the Game Close: "Fair Play" among Men's College Basketball Referees

Academic journal article Human Organization

Keeping the Game Close: "Fair Play" among Men's College Basketball Referees

Article excerpt

As a cross-cultural universal, sports are frequently examined by anthropologists in terms of how sporting behavior embodies and expresses the cultural logic of societal norms and expectations. In contemporary Western society, sports are often premised on cultural precepts of "fair play" expressed through gaming rules that ostensibly control factors that allow for the expression and comparison of competing skills. We examine the behavior of men's college basketball referees as choreographers of staged fair play and suspense versus objective enforcers of rules. To this end, we test the hypothesis that when games are televised on national television, referees in men's Division I college basketball call a disproportionate number of fouls against teams that are ahead in the score of their respective games, resulting in more competitive games which maintain an edge of suspense for viewers. We suspect this to be true even though trailing teams typically exhibit more aggressive play to remain competitive or get back in the game. We observed the behavior of referees involved in a total of 2,441 foul call events in 67 randomly selected Division I college basketball games during the 2000 basketball season. Results demonstrate that college basketball referees call a significantly higher number of fouls against a team that is leading a game when the game is televised on national television. This pattern does not hold when games are televised regionally. We suspect that "fair play" behavior on the part of referees helps promote dramatic suspense to attract and maintain television viewers.

Key words: sports, social performance, commercialization, United States

On March 11, 2000, the University of Connecticut men's basketball team played St. John's University for the Big East Tournament Championship before a nationally televised ESPN audience at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The second half of the game begins with 20th ranked St. John's leading 22nd ranked Connecticut by nine points. The first six fouls of the second half include two offensive charges, two defensive fouls, and two loose ball fouls, all of which are charged to St. John's, who starts the half with a nine-point lead. In fact, no fouls are called against Connecticut until a full seven and a half minutes into the second half, despite the fact that they are the aggressors seeking to get back in the game. Moreover, St. John's is clearly outplaying Connecticut.

On January 11, 2000, an early season Atlantic 10 Conference match-up sees Xavier visit Dayton before another nationally televised ESPN audience. In a four-minute stretch in the middle of the first half, Dayton goes on an 11-4 scoring run that clearly tips the competitive balance in its favor. However, in less than a minute of play following this 11-4 run the referees call three straight defensive fouls against Dayton, muting their advantage and allowing Xavier to remain in the game.

Are officials keeping these games close by calling a disproportionate number of calls against the leading team? If so, how might it relate to the social and economic circumstances within which college basketball is played in the United States? In addition to considering these questions, we discuss the cultural logic associated with refereeing, college basketball, and its socioeconomic character that reflects a more general American cultural notion of "fair play." Rules and circumstances that encourage fair play allow Americans ostensibly to interpret achievements in career success, economic prosperity, fame, and sports stardom as a byproduct of individual achievement based on skill and hard work. Americans are somewhat aware that class and other factors, such as ethnicity, gender, and age, create or impede economic opportunities. Consequently, they prize arenas where rules of fair play are assumed to be empirically present to objectively discern, observe, and admire true individual mental and physical achievement. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.