Sunday, July 29, 2007

NFL Referee Tendency Does Not Necessarily Mean Cheating

One of the goals of this blog is to focus on referee performance, particularly NFL referees. As Michael Lewis pointed out in his book "The Blind Side," different NFL referees have their own particular tendencies. For example, one referee might consistently call holding more often than another. A referee's tendency (or bias in favor of calling holding) does not necessarily mean the referee is cheating, though. It's possible the ref just has a slightly different view of the rules and calls it closer than others. What would be important is that the ref calls it the same throughout the season and regardless of whether it's the home team, away team, favorites, or the underdogs.

Let's take it from there, though. Let's say that a ref has a particular tendency and is not cheating. What sports writers or blogs are covering referees' tendencies? Do some referees tend to have games with higher point totals than expected? Call more or less penalties than expected? Have the favored teams win more often than expected? That's where crunching the numbers over the course of an NFL season might reveal some interesting information.

What I find surprising is that sports writers and television commentators are not already doing this much more. Why -- do they think that commenting on a ref somehow suggests they are cheaters? That's not true, they might be honest people with their own particular tendencies.

If you are wondering whether NFL referees might have a cheater in its midst (like NBA referee Tim Donaghy), you would not be the only one wondering. Mike Biachi raised that in "It's a sure thing the NBA isn't the only league in an embarrassing fix" in the Orlando Sentinel and Mike Sando on wrote in "NFL referees face layers of scrutiny" that the NFL is guarding against that possibility.

Post a comment if you have some suggestions for how to crunch the 2006 NFL season referee statistics to look for unusual deviations. In the meantime, I'll focus on referee tendencies, without necessarily suggesting that variations between referees necessarily mean anyone is cheating.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

NBA Referee Tim Donaghy Under Investigation

Police are investigating the possibility that NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on NBA games and improperly affected the final scores. Tim Donaghy has resigned from refereeing while the investigation continues.

Only time will tell whether the allegations of biased refereeing are actually true -- we should wait for a jury to decide that. But the investigation of whether one referee has been doing his job correctly in all of his games highlights the importance of sports fans and sports journalists to comment on and review how well referees do their job.

Even if it turns out that Tim Donaghy is innocent -- or that 99% of NBA referees are unbiased and try their hardest to call a fair game, referees each have their own styles and peculiarities. They are also human and can have a bad day here and there just like the rest of us. Fans and journalists should be discussing and reviewing how referees are doing. Do some call travelling more than others? That's an interesting fact that might be just a different style of the referee -- and not anything improper or illegal.

When the NBA issues fines against players, coaches, and owners who criticize referees, it means the NBA is silencing some of the key people in position to analyze and comment on how referees are performing. It's up to the journalists, then, to fill in the gap and comment on how referees do. Are journalists afraid of annoying the sports leagues that they depend on for press credentials? Or are journalists not willing to do the hard work of analyzing the referees?

Maybe the only solution is to turn away from the usual journalists and create a forum for us sports fans to comment in a fair way on referees. This blog is one attempt to offer a forum for people to comment on referees in a reasonable and thoughtful way.

What does the NBA referee investigation mean to you?