I’m not usually one to complain about officiating. Sure, I’ll get up in arms about a terrible call here and there, like all sports fans are prone to do. But generally, I realize that officiating a sporting event is an incredibly difficult job for which people are underpaid and only receive attention when they mess up. I recognize that they are doing their best to be objective and fair, and I believe that blaming the refs for a loss is usually a cop out or an excuse when your team is at fault. Even the infamous replacement ref call in the Green Bay/Seattle game this season wasn’t too egregious to me—I thought it was pretty close to simultaneous possession.
That said, there are some inequities in officiating that are generally accepted. NBA superstars get the benefit of the doubt on close calls. If you don’t believe me, go to youtube and watch Michael Jordan shove Bryon Russell for the 10,000th time. Some people believe that the popular professional sports teams (Yankees, Lakers, Cowboys, etc.) are given more calls because the various leagues want them to succeed. I simply don’t believe this, because it would have to involve a conspiracy wherein the league was actually telling the officials to give better calls to those teams, and I don’t believe that such a conspiracy could be kept out of the public eye this long.
There is, however, one glaring exception in the world of college sports. Anyone who has watched their team play basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium will tell you that when you go into Durham, you are going to be playing against eight people. The ref shirts might as well be striped with Duke blue and white.
What is the reason for this phenomenon? How can it be explained? Is Mike Krzyzewski as sinister as his rate-face would suggest and actually paying these men off? I certainly don’t believe in any such nonsense. What I believe is happening is quite simple: College refs aren’t as good as the pros, and there is no place in college basketball quite like Cameron Indoor; the officials are not immune to its effects.
I don’t think they are doing it on purpose or with any sort of premeditation, but whenever the game is close and it seems the tide could turn in either direction, you can bet which way the tight calls are going to go. Duke will get the charge call on D, and a blocking foul on the exact same play on O. When Mason Plumlee is haphazardly throwing his elbows around in the post, any contact he makes will put him on the line.
It’s not like Duke is getting 10 fewer fouls called on them each game. Surely something that blatant would warrant an NCAA investigation. But it’s those two or three big momentum swinging calls that make the difference, and the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
In their 16 home games so far this season (16-0), Duke has been called for more fouls than their opponent twice. Two times. Once was against Delaware, a game which they won by almost 40 points. The other was against UNC, the only other team in the ACC with a pedigree matching or exceeding theirs. On their home court this season, Duke has been whistled for 270 personal fouls. Their opponents have been called for 317. That averages out to 16.88 fouls on Duke per game, and 19.81 for their opponents. It may not seem like a ton, but it means that they are essentially starting every home game with a 5 or 6 point lead built in.
Now some of you may be thinking, “Okay Jared, so Duke fouls less than other teams. Coach K only recruits stand-up guys! Other than the occasional motorcycle accident or a little credit debt, no player from Duke has ever made a mistake! Mike Krzyzewski just instills discipline in his team, and that results in fewer fouls. Simple.”
It’s a fair argument, so let’s take a look at Duke on the road. In 14 road games this season (10-4), Duke has been called for 265 personal fouls. Their opponents were called for 267. So, at home, they have a foul differential of +47. On the road, +2. On the road they average 18.93 fouls per contest, and their opponents average 19.07, a statistically insignificant difference of .14 fouls per game.
Obviously, there is no way to prove that Duke is getting more favorable officiating at home. Correlation does not prove causation. It could be the case that every team in the NCAA has this sort of foul discrepancy between their home and away games, I have neither the time nor energy to do the math and find out. It could be that the sheer energy of the Cameron crowd makes all of their hands quicker, and instead of slapping wrists like they would on the road, they get all ball at home. It could be that Ryan Kelly has a crush on one of the crazies who gets especially turned on by guys who can take a charge, and on the road he just doesn’t get to his spot as quickly because it won’t help him get laid.
All I know is that I’m not a UNC fan, and I have nothing against Duke personally, but I have watched enough basketball to know that if you are playing at Cameron Indoor, you better keep your hands straight up in the post. And if you try and take a charge, get there really early and make sure you are way outside of the restricted zone. Because the only way to get a call is not to give the officials a choice.