Study Says College Basketball Referees Try to Keep Foul Calls Even

From the New York Times (November 30, 2009):


Two professors familiar with college basketball had a hunch that referees tended to try to keep the total fouls called against each team somewhat even. After examining 365 Division I games in the 2004-5 season, they had data to support their suspicion.

The independent study by Kyle J. Anderson and David A. Pierce concluded that N.C.A.A. men’s basketball officials tended to level the disparity between the teams’ foul totals, make more calls against teams with leads and were more likely to make calls in favor of home teams.

Anderson, a visiting assistant professor of business economics at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business, said he noticed such tendencies among officials when he played center at Division III Knox College in Illinois. Pierce, an assistant professor of sport administration at Ball State, has dabbled in basketball officiating.

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Indiana University:

A study co-authored by a professor in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business suggests that fans do have a great impact on games and that officials often are not objective in their efforts to be fair to both teams.

An examination of 365 major conference games played during the 2004-05 college men’s basketball season found a clear pattern of an increased probability of a foul on the team with fewer fouls, the visiting team and the team 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,” said Kyle J. Anderson, a visiting assistant professor of business economics at Kelley-Indianapolis. “That is seen as being objective or fair.

“We had suspected that, having played and watched basketball,” he added. “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 be a very small effect.”

Anderson and his co-author, David Pierce, an assistant professor of sport administration at Ball State University, published their findings in the Journal of Sports Sciences earlier this year. Both have ties to the game — Anderson played collegiately at Division III’s Knox College and Pierce has done some local officiating.