A BASN Special Report (Part Two)

By Eric G. Satterwhite, BASN Contributor
Updated: December 11, 2009

NEW YORK (BASN) – On the evening of December 6, 2009 NBA Vice President of Communications e-mailed the following data:

NBA Commissioner David Stern has issued the following statement in response to tonight’s “60 Minutes” segment featuring disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy, who recently completed a 15-month prison term which was imposed by the New York Federal Court where he pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit betting information:

“In an interview aired on ’60 Minutes,’ Tim Donaghy repeated his allegations against his former colleagues, NBA referees, as well as the NBA. Those allegations have been fully investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the government completed its investigation, finding that the only criminal conduct was that of Mr. Donaghy.

In addition, the NBA appointed Lawrence B. Pedowitz, a former Chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to lead a comprehensive independent review of the NBA’s officiating program.

Mr. Pedowitz’ review revealed that the NBA’s core values of neutrality and accountability were not compromised by anyone other than Mr. Donaghy. All allegations with respect to the integrity of the NBA’s officiating program will continue to be referred to Mr. Pedowitz for his review.”

Much has transpired since the release of BASN Special Report NBA Referee Referendum Part I (NBA-RR1) dropped worldwide in early October 2009, At the time of the NBA-RR1 replacement referee’s ruled, veteran officialdom was still without contract, and the NBA’s renowned rogue “rat” referee Tim Donaghy was not yet free.

Shortly after NBA-RR1 the NBA announced several on court rule changes, created software to fan friendly rules interpretations, opened the fine portal to various NBA coaches, players, and organizations who waffled with replacement refs, and contracted the labor demands of veteran officials who are resplendent in Star-Trek styled un-striped uniformed referee regalia.

Yet, what has not changed is the shady shadowy shill Donaghy that hovers over the headquarters offices of the National Basketball Association akin to the caped crusader Batman’s emblematic wings encompassing the skyline of Gotham City.

Donaghy has written a book and is on tour sharing his perspectives of the underhanded ways of NBA refereeing coupled with underworld underlings who undermined Donaghy’s undertakings to make millions of dollars under the table eventually leading to his unemployment/undoing and is unfortunately perceived by a less than unanimous consortium as unctuously crying “Uncle” (uncool).

There are media minions who spiel that Tim Donaghy is a convicted felon and void of valid verbiage. True indeed, Donaghy has a felony conviction and as true he has lost his family, survived a “goodfella” thwack to his knee while in the pen, did his bid, and is proactively promoting/propositioning his con versus pro written prose no pun intended while out on probation. There are pundits that utter that a phony like Donaghy’s monies motivations is the test and jest of Timmy’s tome testimonies.

What will follow next is compelling erudition that will allow you the reader the free to ascertain independent of anyone to answer Marvin Gaye’s melodious oratorio “What’s Going On” in the climax of NBA Referee Referendum. Word is bond.

Bias

In June 2007 Joseph Price of Cornell University and Justin Wolfers of Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania compiled a research paper for the Institute of the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn, Germany, which is a virtual international research center.

The center is associated with the University of Bonn and offers a stimulating research environment through its research networks, research support, and visitors and doctoral programs. IZA engages in original and internationally competitive research in varied fields of labor economics, development of policy concepts, and dissemination of research results and concepts to the interested public.

The well-researched discussion paper submitted to IZA was entitled “Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees” discussion paper #2863. Both Authors Price and Wolfer’s discussion/research paper was funded by The Wharton Sports Business Initiative.

The core of Tim Donaghy’s 70% to 80% winning percentiles was formatted from a “insider” disposition resulting in the knowing of slanted/prejudicial tendencies of NBA official’s and how these perceived bias attitudes with players, coaches, and NBA front office personnel would reflect the games outcomes. Before I go contrairian let’s peep dictionary.com‘s definition for bias:

Bias: a particular tendency or inclination, esp. one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice. to cause partiality or favoritism in (a person); influence, esp. unfairly: a tearful plea designed to bias the jury.

Let’s deviate back to the aforementioned research paper “Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees” written 30 months before Donaghy’s “60 Minutes” interview where the first paragraph reads:

“The NBA provides an intriguing place to test for taste-based discrimination: referees and players are involved in repeated interactions in a high-pressure setting with referees making the type of split-second decisions that might allow implicit racial biases to manifest themselves.

Moreover, the referees receive constant monitoring and feedback on their performance. (Commissioner Stern has claimed that NBA referees “are the most ranked, rated, reviewed, statistically analyzed and mentored group of employees of any company in any place in the world.”) The essentially arbitrary assignment of refereeing crews to basketball games, and the number of repeated interactions allow us to convincingly test for own-race preferences.

We find – even conditioning on player and referee fixed effects (and specific game fixed effects) – that more personal fouls are called against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race refereeing crew than when officiated by an own-race crew. These biases are sufficiently large that we find appreciable differences in whether predominantly black teams are more likely to win or lose, based on the racial composition of the refereeing crew.”

What is interesting the NBA and FBI agreed Donaghy did not fix games in which he officiated. Donaghy’s euphoric high of winning games in which he bet totaling more than 100 games at a methodical 75% accuracy ratio was procured via conspirator intelligence cemented by the bias peccadilloes of fellow NBA refereeing colleagues. Sound too good to be true well per research paper “Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees” you be the judge read on:

“Does race color our evaluation of others? We provide new evidence on racial biases in evaluation, by examining how the number of fouls awarded against black or white NBA players salaries with the racial composition of the refereeing crew. Our setting provides intriguing insights into own-race bias; relative to social, judicial, or labor market settings, the evaluators in our sample (NBA referees) are a particularly expert group, with substantial experience, continual feedback, and they face robust career incentives to be accurate.

Indeed, NBA Commissioner Stern has claimed that these referees “are the most ranked, rated, reviewed, statistically analyzed and mentored group of employees of any company in any place in the world.” The evaluators we study—NBA referees—are effectively randomly assigned to each game. Moreover, the number of games played each year is large, so we can assess both a very clear baseline rate at which individual players commit fouls, and also a clear baseline for the number of fouls called by different referees.

Against this baseline, we find systematic evidence of an own race bias. Notably, players earn up to 4 percent fewer fouls or score up to 2½ percent more points when they are the recipients of a positive own-race bias, rather than a negative opposite-race effect. Player statistics that one might think are unaffected by referee behavior are uncorrelated with referee race. The bias in refereeing is large enough that the probability of a team winning is noticeably affected by the racial composition of the refereeing crew assigned to the game.

These results speak to several literatures. Within the economics of discrimination, this pattern of own-race preference is not reconcilable with efficient statistical discrimination, which would point to a generalized tendency of black or white players to receive more fouls, but not a differential tendency to discriminate correlated with the race of the referee. Related evidence suggesting a role for own-race preferences has been documented in a range of other contexts.

Donohue and Levitt (2001) find that an increase in the number of police of a certain race is associated with an increase in arrests of people of the other race; Antonovics and Knight (2005) find that police are more likely to search the vehicle of someone of a different race; Stauffer and Buckley (2005) find that supervisors give lower performance ratings for workers of the opposite race; Stoll, Raphael, and Holzer (2004) find that those firms where whites are in charge of hiring are less likely to hire black job applicants than those where blacks control hiring.

The advantages of our setting lie in the process for assigning referees to games, which takes no account of player race, thereby ensuring that our findings are not confounded by subjects sorting to preferred evaluators, and repeated interactions which allow for reasonably precise inferences. Applying Beckerian taxonomy to our findings, this own-race preference falls under the banner of taste-based discrimination.

Within this, we can rule out customer-based discrimination as the cause, as the own-race preference continues to exist even after we hold the stadium (and hence customer base) constant. Additionally, an inference of employer discrimination is inconsistent with our understanding of the formal incentives for accuracy provided by the league.

Keep in mind the NBA agreed and could not contradict the FBI’s findings that Donaghy did not manipulate any games in which he refereed and won bets on Tim’s knowledge of who would referee games an hour before tip-off. Donaghy mentioned on “60 Minutes” that picking games was “incredibly easy” based on the relationships NBA referees had with players, coaches, and owners. Donaghy stated that the in his venial incisiveness referee relationships regulated point spreads in games.

Let’s check out the June 2007 research paper “Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees” and read the following :

Using a unique dataset on NBA games, we test whether players of a given race receive fewer fouls when more of the referees present in the game are of the same race. The richness of our data allow us to control for a host of relevant factors that influence the number of fouls called and focus specifically on the repeated interactions between players and referees.

We find that players earn up to 4% fewer fouls and score up to 2½% more points on nights in which their race matches that of the refereeing crew. Player statistics that one might think are unaffected by referee behavior are uncorrelated with referee race. The bias in foul calling is large enough that the probability of a team winning is noticeably affected by the racial composition of the refereeing crew assigned to the game.

These results are striking given the level of racial equality achieved along other dimensions in the NBA and the high level of accountability and monitoring under which the referees operate. Thus, while the external validity of these results remains an open question, they are at least suggestive that implicit biases may play an important role in shaping our evaluation of others, particularly in split-second high-pressure decisions.

That is, while these results may be of interest to those intrigued by the sporting context, we emphasize them instead as potentially suggestive of similar forces operating in a range of other contexts involving rapid subjective assessments.”

In closing, recently retired FBI Special Agent Philip Scalia disclosed “60 Minutes” that, “Donaghy would bet on a game when he knew who the referees were and the strong feelings (biases) they (referee’s) had on certain players.” Scalia further added that, “Referee’s brought judgments and biases on the official game floor’ which harmonizes and synchronizes the findings of the June 2007 research document Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees“. Scalia also added that, “Donaghy’s reduced sentence was a result of his error free honesty” or in Donaghy’s words “100% truthful”.

Therefore it’s up to you the reader to discern in the words of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, “Who’s zooming who”…

NOTE: Here’s the link to the research paper “Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees”

http://bpp.wharton.upenn.edu/ jwolfers/Papers/NBARace.pdf