Study: College basketball referees hold home-team bias

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on November 23rd, 2009

Fewer fouls called on home team

They don’t all need glasses. But if you always suspected basketball referees are biased — well, you’re right, according to a couple of professors who’ve studied the matter.

espnu-logoRefs favor the home team, the academics say. They’re big on “make-up” calls. They make more calls against teams in the lead, and the discrepancy grows if the game is on national TV.

The professors studied 365 college games during the 2004-05 season and found that refs had a terrific knack for keeping the foul count even, regardless of which team was more aggressive.

Exhibit A: The 2005 Final Four meeting between Illinois and Louisville. The Illini, known for being more aggressive defensively, got whistled for the first seven fouls. By the end of the game, the foul count was Louisville 13, Illinois 12. The Illini won 72-57.

Results like this were the norm across all the games the professors studied from that season — from the Big East to the ACC to the Big Ten and all 63 NCAA tournament games. The take-home message for coaches: The more aggressive your teams the better because, in the end, the foul count is going to be about even no matter what.

It helps explain, the professors say, why college basketball has gotten increasingly physical over the past 25 years.

“Part of the reason for the study came from something my coach used to tell me,” said study co-author Kyle Anderson, a visiting professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, who played at Division III Knox College. “He said a team can come in and push and shove and grab and hold, and by the end of the game, or end of the half, they’ve only got one or two more fouls because officials kind of get tired of calling it.”

Among the key findings, which were published The Journal of Sports Sciences earlier this year:

Read the full article from ESPN.com.

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Referee Advice

If you do not like to be shouted at, then don’t shout at somebody else. Be firm, using a normal, relaxed voice. Shouting indicates a loss of control, not only of oneself, but also the game. If you can’t control yourself you cannot be expected to control others.

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