By Henry Abbott
A high school coach once told me that it pays to knock the other team around early, because referees get used to your style of play and have a tendency to let it happen.
They also, he told me, like to see both teams with similar numbers of fouls at the end of the game. The worst thing would be to let the other team shove you around, but get called for as many fouls as they are. You might as well really foul a lot! That way, you can intimidate opponents; have the inside track on rebounds, loose balls and the like; and give everyone on both teams -- and the referees -- the mindset that you're the hungrier team.
It seemed kind of like loopy logic to me at the time, but lookie here, an academic study finds that general approach seems to work in college basketball.
Professor Kyle Anderson says, in a press release about his research at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, that patterns of foul calls show referees tend to favor aggressive teams:
"If you're a super aggressive team and you're pushing and shoving and knocking people down ... and the referees are going to try and call an approximately even number of fouls, then you're going have a big advantage ... You never want to be the less aggressive team."