July 20, 2007

NBA Official Fixed Games?


Congratulations Michael Vick, a huge distraction made its way to the forefront today. The New York Post is reporting that the FBI is investigating veteran NBA official Tim Donaghy for betting on games he refereed between 2005 and 2007. Now the FBI and NBA are trying to determine if he made calls that directly affected the outcome of games.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of this story. Basketball, of all the major sports, involves the most subjective officiating. Most of the calls involve concepts like "gained advantage". In addition, at least in the NBA, many infractions are routinely ignored, especially travelling and carrying the ball. It would not be difficult for an official with thousands of dollars riding on a game to count a quick three seconds, call a walk, or issue a technical when he needs a little help getting over the point spread.

If other point-shaving scandals (Arizona St. basketball, Toledo football) have taught us anything, the NBA should be looking most closely at games with large spreads and very little national scrutiny. It is much easier to successfully shave points in a Dallas v. Charlotte matchup, where the spread can be near 20 and "close calls" only extend the blowout. However, to my knowledge, this is the first American scandal involving officials, rather than players. Obviously, an individual player on a basketball or football team can only do so much to affect the score. An official, on the other hand, can control nearly every aspect of the game, especially in basketball where the official's jurisdiction is basically the whole floor.

blahblahblablahblah Does Bill Simmons still think tanking is funny? Asshat.

This is really going to hurt the NBA, which has been trying to convince fans that the teams are really trying and competing during the regular season. This goes back to my anger over the Celtics and Bucks apparently trying to out-tank each other in a game late this past season. Point shaving thrives in an environment where the games are not actually competitive and the players and fans do not have much emotional investment in every call or every game. Cynics who have shunned the NBA regular season for years are now going to claim it's basically an exhibition season to get people ready for the playoffs.

And what about Mark Cuban? He has been claiming for years that the officials are awful. I think this revelation is shocking even to him. At worst, he probably felt some referees were biased against certain players or teams. I doubt he ever considered that a referee was actually controlling the score. David Stern has a lot to be unhappy about right now (low NBA Finals ratings, Yi refusing to play, point shaving), but the thought of Mark Cuban and a microphone right now must really make his chest tight.

If the FBI really has something here, this will prove to be a very dark day for the NBA.

1 Responses:

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