Sunday, May 10, 2009

Referees, Criticisms, and Apologies Outside the NFL

One of my main points in analyzing NFL referee statistics is that journalists should spend more time criticizing NFL referees and commenting on their tendencies along with their performance during a game. It's possible to focus on a referee's tendencies without suggesting that a referee is trying to swing the game in one team's favor. For example, a referee might have an unconscious bias toward home teams because they are influenced by lots of cheering fans, even though they honestly attempt to block out the home crowd.

Or even more innocently, some referees are sticklers with the rule book (and call more penalties), while others are more lenient and let both teams get away with more. That doesn't mean a referee is trying to influence the game, it's just the unconscious tendency of referees.

Let's take a look at two examples outside of the NFL.

In the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets on May 9, 2009, Antoine Wright fouled Carmelo Anthony with a few seconds left in the fourth quarter but by mistake, NBA referee Mark Wunderlich did not make the foul call. It had a major effect on the game and within a few hours after it ended, the NBA admitted that the ref had made a mistake. I think it's a good move by the NBA to acknowledge a mistake, good that the journalists were already focused on the mistake, and too bad the NBA still has a gag rule that stops players and coaches (including Mark Cuban, who often has interesting analysis and ideas) from saying anything about what everyone was focused on.

In the game between Chelsea and Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semifinal on May 6, 2009, referee Tom Henning Ovrebo made several controversial calls, especially a red card for Abidal, no penalty for a foul on Alves on Malouda, no penalty when Toure tugged on Drogba's shirt, no penalty when Anelka's flick-on is stopped by Pique's arm, and no penalty when Ballack shoots the ball and hits the shoulder or arm of Eto'o. There's no established way for UEFA to make a report on the referee's decisions and either stand by them or concede that he made a human error at some point. It's good that journalists are focused on the controversial calls and it is also good that UEFA does not have a gag rule so players and coaches can express their opinions (though hopefully not like Drogba did to a live audience at the end of the match!) Oh, and everyone needs to protect referees from death threats, also.

Looks like people have a way to go to reach intelligent, respectful analysis of referee performance. I will try to move in that direction with some NFL referee statistics and analysis. Post your comments if you have suggestions or ideas for the 2009 NFL season (or any lingering questions about the 2007 or 2008 NFL referee statistics).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The two examples that you site are like comparing apples to zebras in the officiating world. In my opinion the officiating in the NBA is uneven at best and designed to preserve the stars of the game. (at worst it's crooked) Soccer by its very structure is officiated "in the opinion of the official," with the exception of mis-application of the rules which seldom happens at the FIFA level each official will call games differently and it's part of the game. Football is a completely different matter. The rules are very tightly written and enforcement philosophy is taught at all levels. You will also learn that both NFL and NCAA both track every flag thrown in the regular season. Aditionally many high school crews track penalties as well.

4:41 PM  

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