Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Study Also Notes Female Refs Call More Fouls on Men than Women

In an unpublished study by Wharton School of UPenn assistant professor Justin Wolfers and Cornell University graduate student Joseph Price, the authors claim that white officials in the NBA call more fouls on black players than white players, and vice versa for black officials and white players.

The study was performed over thirteen seasons of box score data from the NBA, using the officials' names and race to determine whether zero, one, two or three of the three officials in a game were black or white. This was combined with the foul totals and minutes played for each player, to determine the number of fouls per forty-eight minutes assigned by an officiating crew. The study found that "black players receive around 0.12-0.20 more fouls per 48 minutes played (an increase of 2 1/2-4 1/2 percent) when the number of white referees officiating a game increases from zero to three."

While the statistic are certainly there, I cannot agree with the authors' assessment that the difference in calls "is large enough that the probability of a team winning is noticeably affected by the racial composition of the refereeing crew." Let's look at the extreme case. Team A plays five white players for forty-eight minutes. Team B plays five black players for forty-eight minutes. The game is officiated by a crew of three white referees. Ignore the fact that no one has played five white guys for forty-eight minutes in the NBA in a long time. At the end of the game, holding all else equal, we expect Team B to have somewhere between 0.60 and 1.00 more personal fouls than Team A. If Mark Cuban could get that kind of equality, he'd have to find something else to complain about.

Also of note - in the abstract of the study, the authors use the wording "opposite-race" and "own-race" to describe the two races being examined. Given that over one third of the world's population is of Asian descent, I find it quite conspicuous that they choose to place whites and blacks at opposite ends of the spectrum in a paper where they are attempting to raise an issue of equality. We're sorry you got left out Yao.

Study: White refs call more fouls on blacks [Fox Sports]
Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees [Wharton School of UPenn]