Dirty little secret: Study says NBA refs have Napoleon Complex
JUN 10, 2014 12:38a ET
In a league dominated by tall, high-flying freaks who many call the best athletes in the world, it's the old, short, slow guys who hold all the power. Sound like the perfect recipe for a Napoleon Complex?
According to one study, that's exactly what's going on in the NBA.
Published in the latest issue of the Journal of Sports Economics is a study titled "Napoleon Complex: Height Bias Among National Basketball Association Referees." In it, professors Paul Gift (Pepperdine) and Ryan M. Rodenberg (Florida State) present findings that show, in general, shorter officials call more personal fouls than do their taller co-workers.
The study reviewed 4,463 regular-season games from 2008 to 2012 and, after controlling for a variety of referee-specific factors, found:
• More fouls are called by a relatively shorter three-person officiating crew.
• No more or fewer fouls are called in games played by relatively taller players.
In other words, the fluctuation in foul calls is dependent upon the height of the officials, regardless of the height of the players.
More specifically, the study put officials into three groups — shorter than 6 feet, 6 feet to 6-3, and taller than 6-3. It found that the shortest group called 4.13 fouls per 48 minutes on each player in the game, the middle group called 4.09 fouls per game and the tallest group of officials called 4.03 fouls per game.
Stretched out over 10 games, that is one more foul per every player called by the shortest group. Over an entire season, that is eight more personal fouls on each player.
The study itself acknowledges that "Such biases are probably not large enough to impact game outcomes," but did add that the disparities "could affect gambling markets."
"Our findings support the conclusion that relatively shorter NBA referees officiate basketball games differently than their taller peers. The analysis spotlights an oft-suggested but rarely studied bias in a workplace where employees are heavily scrutinized and monitored."
For the record, Tim Donaghy was done officiating by 2007 and in prison in 2008. He is the disgraced former NBA ref who did prison time for crimes related to providing information to gamblers on games he officiated.