If you’ve perused your favorite MSM college basketball site, you’ve surely seen this story. It basically summarizes a paper by a couple of professors who determined that officials call fewer fouls on the home team, fewer fouls on the trailing team, and fewer fouls on the team that has more fouls at any particular moment. I found this passage in the AP story odd, though:
The professors studied 365 college games during the 2004-05 season and found that refs had a terrific knack for keeping the foul count even, regardless of which team was more aggressive.
Exhibit A: The 2005 Final Four meeting between Illinois and Louisville. The Illini, known for being more aggressive defensively, got whistled for the first seven fouls. By the end of the game, the foul count was Louisville 13, Illinois 12. The Illini won 72-57.
Really? That’s your Exhibit A? I’m not sure if a Bruce Weber-coached team was known for being more aggressive than a Rick Pitino-coached team in 2005. It doesn’t seem plausible, but we do have facts we can check. This really isn’t news to anyone in touch with tempo-free stats, but Illinois under Weber has a history of fouling infrequently unless they’re behind in a close game. (The other issue is that four Louisville fouls occurred after the Illini established a double-digit lead late in the second half.) The shock of that game was not that the Cardinals’ foul total eventually exceed that of Illinois, it was that Illinois has a 7-0 edge in fouls at one point.
I have not read the journal article, and because I am not a subscriber to the Journal of Sports Science, I probably never will. It may be well-written and make useful points. But there have to be better examples of officials playing catch-up than this one.