Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Primer on Referee/Umpire/Sports Official Bias

The issue of possible bias among referees, umpires, and sports officials is timely. Late last month, ESPN Dallas/Fort Worth ran a story highlighting how the Dallas Mavericks have fared in the playoffs when NBA referee Danny Crawford was part of a three-person crew. While the numbers set forth in the ESPN article were eye-catching, they were far from conclusive. In a 2009 article (here or here), I analyzed every Dallas Mavericks game during a seven year period, not merely the team's playoff games. I did not find any NBA referee to exhibit bias against the Mavericks when considering all games.

In the second of a trilogy of micro-level NBA referee bias-related journal articles, I investigated allegations made by former Miami Heat coach Pat Riley against two NBA referees (and found no bias on the part of the referees). The resulting paper was published yesterday in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis of Sports. Below is an excerpt that highlights some of the research being done on the issue:

"The presence of bias among referees, umpires, and judges in sports has been part of a growing body of research. Among basketball referees, the analysis of bias has been conducted on the basis of omissions (Moskowitz and Wertheim, 2011), race (Price and Wolfers, 2010), profit-maximizing motives (Price, et al., 2010), point spreads and home court advantage (Shmanske, 2008), aggressive play (Anderson and Pierce, 2009), spectator influence (Lehman and Reifman, 1987), and personal animosity (Winston, 2009; Rodenberg and Lim, 2009). Outside of basketball, Parsons et al. (2011) found evidence of racial bias by baseball umpires, Brimberg and Hurley (2009) pinpointed a home bias among ice hockey referees, Emerson, et al. (2009) focused on judging bias in Olympic diving, and Morgan and Rotthoff (2010) unearthed some evidence of sequential order bias among gymnastics judges. In soccer, referee decision making has been investigated as a function of crowd noise (Nevill, et al., 2002) and social pressure (Garcicano, et al., 2005; Dohmen, 2008). Evidence of referee bias on the basis of nationalism has been investigated in rugby (Page and Page, 2010) and figure skating (Zitzewitz, 2006; Fenwick and Chatterjee, 1981)."

NOTE - If there are any like-minded researchers looking to collaborate, please drop me an email or touch base at the upcoming Sports Lawyers Association conference in Washington, DC. I have found this quasi-legal research line to be fascinating and, in turn, fertile for extensions.