Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Instant Replay in MLB?

The Rockies' manager wants it.

As a fan, I'd be against it, (unless my team got a bad break in a playoff game, of course).

As an umpire, I'd be for it every time. Every single time. Anything that helps me get my call right.

I'd be interested in whether the MLB umpires want it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Race in officiating

The New York Times wrote this.

It's hard to write about race in our society, because we haven't come up with a way to do so that is both honest and socially acceptable. I'm about to argue that I don't buy this study. In so doing, I run the risk of saying "I'm not racist, but..." which is the death knell for any conversation about race. Everybody has at least trace elements of racism in them, and at some point in everyone's life, that will come through in behavior.

I just don't see how that can happen on a basketball foul call.

When I'm running the floor, I don't have time to think about much besides identifying offense/defense, pivot foot, positioning on the floor, and the like. When Stephen Colbert says "I don't see race," it's a gag, but on the floor, I honest-to-God don't. I see the color of the jersey, and in some cases, that will influence my call (not wanting to call a ticky-tack on a team getting blown out, for instance). But I can't do any thinking about race. NBA refs are better than I am, but the game is a hell of a lot faster and tougher too, so I'd bet they don't either.

This article (ESPN Insider subscription required) points out that, based on the study's numbers, at the extreme (a Black player who leads the league in minutes and has nothing by all-White officiating crews all season long), a Black player would pick up 11 extra fouls a year. That's one every 8 games in an extreme, never-possible example...in the real world, the difference accounts for a lot less...maybe one foul a month.

Of course, the authors of the study argue that all of this is done subconsciously. I agree that racism is usually a subconscious thing. But can we be sure that this miniscule difference in fouls is attributable to racism?


The study looked at box scores. BOX SCORES. That's simply not enough.

If you're going to convince me that racism is at play here, you'll need to show me that, when a Black player is guarding a White player, officials tend to call a foul on their opposite-race player. If Blacks rack up that extra foul or two guarding other Black players, is that racism? What about a tight no-call on a White player guarding another White player? That's screwing over a White guy, isn't it?

Which brings me to this: there's no analysis of no-calls. Let's suppose there's a borderline call between players of different races. An official makes a no-call. Is that racism too? It wouldn't show up in the stats if it were--or, more to the point, if it were not.

Most importantly, there's no analysis of which official makes the calls. This is entirely necessary for me to be convinced that racism is the cause. There are confounding variables. Do White officials tend to call more fouls, period? Do Black officials tend to have more of a "let them play" philosophy? Since the authors don't have that information, I can only guess at it, but if this turned out to be true, it would explain why there were more fouls called by all-White crews, and therefore more fouls called on Black players, who are the majority.

While we're at it, what about the quality of the calls? Are Blacks picking up ticky-tacks while Whites are getting away with murder? I don't watch much NBA, but I very, very much doubt it.

I think the authors play fast and loose with race, as well. The NYT story shows this as their methodology:

Mr. Wolfers said that he and Mr. Price classified each N.B.A. player and referee as either black or not black by assessing photographs and speaking with an anonymous former referee, and then using that information to predict how an official would view the player. About a dozen players could reasonably be placed in either category, but Mr. Wolfers said the classification of those players did not materially change the study’s findings.

Wow. Do Manu Ginobili, Carlos Arroyo, or Yao Ming suffer race-based fouls? Hell, are they "black" or "not black"? Have we really classified the world into those two piles?

Also, is it possible that a kid from a rough, poor background will play a rougher game than a kid from a rural or suburban background...enough to account for about a foul per month? A good way to test for that confounding variable would be to see if a poor White kid from the city fouls more than a rich Black kid from the suburbs.

And let's go to the big conclusion, and the shocking quote by one of the study's authors:

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.

Is this because of racist officials? The Times sure makes it look like it is, and a casual reader would see it. But ESPN's John Hollinger has a far more sensible conclusion:

There's a much more obvious explanation -- the league imported a bunch of talent from Europe during the study period, almost all of it white, and the poorly run teams were the last ones to figure out there were good players on other continents. Thus, by default they ended up with more black players on their rosters.

Look back on the drafts of the mid-to-late '90s and you'll see what I mean. Players like Peja Stojakovic, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrei Kirilenko were all basically stolen in the draft by smart, forward-thinking teams. That their teams won more games than average is an effect of their superior front offices, not the officiating.

Of course, none of this is going to matter. This story is a perfect storm--the titillating specter of racism tied to out-of-control NBA officials in the wake of the Joey Crawford thing. Therefore, before the study is vetted and analyzed, the public will be convinced that Black players pick up maybe a foul more per month entirely because of racist officials.

In the end, in spite of the NBA's stiff defense of its officials and all of the seeming shortcomings of the study, the assumption that refs are racist is going to be stuck in the heads of the crazy parents at the games that I officiate next season. When I have that 50/50 call that I see going the way of the White kid, it will be easy to assume that, rather than calling it like I saw it, that I'm going out of my way to screw over the Black kid. That's already true for all of us on the court (for my Black colleagues, it's true in reverse), but it'll likely get worse now.

That sucks.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Knee part deux

It's Chondromalacia patella.

Doctor poked and rubbed my knees and said it's nothing serious. She then said she thought that the branch of the quadriceps muscle that moseys down to the knee felt "underdeveloped." Nice doctorly word for "weakling." Ah, the perils of the non-athlete official...

So she put me on a BUNCH of ibuprofen (I won't take that much...it doesn't hurt much) and suggested I ice it. And get good shoes. And stop sitting on my feet like I'm a pretzel. ("You could get away with that at 12, but not after 35," she said.)

More importantly, she's setting me up with a physical therapist--I would imagine to strengthen my legs. Maybe, before too long, I can be mistaken for an athlete.

I'll give it a few weeks and then make the call about camp.

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