Officiating Patterns Reward Aggressive Play
The tip-off of the college basketball season last month also brought the return of the "sixth man"--hometown fans who implore the officials to call the games a certain way. At the same time, referees work hard to be seen as fair. A study coauthored by a pair of professors suggests that fans have a great impact on games and that refs often are not objective in their efforts to be fair to both teams.
An examination of major conference games found a clear pattern of an increased probability of a foul on the team with fewer fouls, the visiting club, and the squad that is leading. "Whether consciously or subconsciously, officials seem to show a pattern where they try to make the number of fouls called on each team come out approximately even," notes Kyle J. Anderson, a visiting assistant professor of economics at the Kelley School of Business, Indianapolis. "That is seen as being objective or fair.
"We had suspected that, having played and watched basketball, but once we started to run the data, I think the magnitude of the effect was much more than we had ever anticipated. We thought that this was going to have a very small effect."
Basketball officiating can be very subjective, with a variance between what is and what is not a foul. Anderson and coauthor David Pierce, an assistant professor of sports administration at Ball State University, Muncie, Ind., set out to measure officials "fairness" by examining the number and liming of fouls called during games.
They looked at 272 regular season games, 30 neutral-court conference tournament contests, and 63 neutral-court NCAA Tourney encounters. To avoid the effect of trailing teams fouling intentionally at the end of regulation time, only foul calls in the first half were included. …