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Wednesday, May 02, 2007
 
Racial Disparity in NBA Foul Calls?

So says a new study:

A coming paper by a University of Pennsylvania professor and a Cornell University graduate student says that, during the 13 seasons from 1991 through 2004, white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players.

Justin Wolfers, an assistant professor of business and public policy at the Wharton School, and Joseph Price, a Cornell graduate student in economics, found a corresponding bias in which black officials called fouls more frequently against white players, though that tendency was not as strong. They went on to claim that the different rates at which fouls are called “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.”


But to get an idea of how hard it is to really analyze this stuff, get this part:

With their database of almost 600,000 foul calls, Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price used a common statistical technique called multivariable regression analysis, which can identify correlations between different variables. The economists accounted for a wide range of factors: that centers, who tend to draw more fouls, were disproportionately white; that veteran players and All-Stars tended to draw foul calls at different rates than rookies and non-stars; whether the players were at home or on the road, as officials can be influenced by crowd noise; particular coaches on the sidelines; the players’ assertiveness on the court, as defined by their established rates of assists, steals, turnovers and other statistics; and more subtle factors like how some substitute players enter games specifically to commit fouls.


Okay, so let's throw out the foul calls on white centers, let's say that all-stars (who are disproportionately black--nine of the ten starters in this year's All-Star game were African-American; the tenth was Yao Ming) should get more fouls than they do, and I don't have a clue as to what they are talking about with the "players' assertiveness on the court".

Do I believe that some racial bias might pop up in foul calls? Sure. Do I believe it's really to this point?

Mr. Wolfers and Mr. Price claim that these changes are enough to affect game outcomes. Their results suggested that for each additional black starter a team had, relative to its opponent, a team’s chance of winning would decline from a theoretical 50 percent to 49 percent and so on, a concept mirrored by the game evidence: the team with the greater share of playing time by black players during those 13 years won 48.6 percent of games — a difference of about two victories in an 82-game season.

“Basically, it suggests that if you spray-painted one of your starters white, you’d win a few more games,” Mr. Wolfers said.


No.

Ezra Klein, a liberal blogger, comes up with some good points:

An increase in fouls of 2.5-4.5% per 48 minutes for African-American players is incredibly low. If state troopers only stopped black drivers 5% more often than white drivers we would be crowing about the incredible reduction of racial profiling.

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