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Friday, November 1, 2013
NBA referees hate your team?

By Henry Abbott

Ryan Rodenberg, an assistant professor of sports law at Florida State University, writes in the Atlantic:

In three recently published academic articles, I studied several narrowly focused allegations of bias involving certain NBA referees against a specific player (Tim Duncan), a coach (Pat Riley), and an owner (Mark Cuban).

I found nothing.

In other words, I found no systematic evidence of a referee’s personal animus negatively impacting the performance of the team in question.

In statistical parlance, my non-findings are known as null results. Researchers often struggle to publish such findings, creating what is commonly known as the “file drawer problem”—that is, the problem in which the public only sees the studies with the most eye-catching findings. But the dissemination of null results is critically important in a number of realms, including tests of NBA referee impartiality. A finding of “no bias” among on-court officials is what one should find if the referees are properly neutral. In other words, perhaps NBA referees deserve more credit than they’ve been getting.


Rodenberg investigated claims by people like Pat Riley and Mark Cuban, he also looked into what happens to Tim Duncan when Joey Crawford is on the court. And he could not find evidence of systematic bias.

Meanwhile, of course one of the most vociferous voices claiming that such bias exists is disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy. But, similarly, our digging into his claims found, like Rodenberg's research, that it just wasn't so.