Home Officiating Bias

Submitted by TheGhostofYost on January 15th, 2013 at 8:37 PM

Officials, particularly in college basketball, favor the home teams, as well as teams that are trailing by a large margin.  This has been well-documented not only by the average fan who has watched more than 3 conference road games, but also by people who actually study this stuff (Boyko 2007, Pierce 2009, AP 2009).  Perhaps especially noteworthy was the Kelley School of Business 2009 study, which concluded that home teams should generally play more physcal, aggressive basketball to take full advatage of the bias.  The question is, what, if anything can be done to combat this?  Is home-court bias just part of the game?  Do you want it to be?  Thought I would spark a bit of discussion of a slow night...



January 16th, 2013 at 12:27 AM ^

During the early stages of the game it appeared that Stauskas drew a charge from Thomas (Kellogg also said it looked like a charge during the broadcast).  It was called a bloking foul crowd went nuts and OSU got a 3 point play.  

Not long after this it appeared that Thomas was sliding under one of our players and a fould was called.  This was more clear cut than the first call mentioned above so I was sure it would be a blocking foul.  It was instead called a charge (once again Kellogg said during the broadcast that he thought this was a bad call). Another 3 point swing.

This scenario could have easily (and according to the announcers) ended with us up 6 more points and Thomas out of the game.

These 50/50 calls (charges and blocking fouls) seem to be harder to call and the refs like to dramatically call them.

I wonder if you look at just the 50/50 calls and not all fouls if they even more favor the home team?


January 16th, 2013 at 12:47 PM ^

Not to mention the foul that got called on the floor even through Burke was clearly in a shooting motion; and the no-call where Hardaway got blasted down to the ground by the defender's entire body.

What I found interesting and what hurt us is the physicality the refs allowed.  We really weren't used to it, it took us by surprise, and the refs really let the players (both sides, to be honest) play a pretty rough game.  We started to have success when we drove to the hoop a bit and played more aggressively like Ohio State started off.  It wasn't until the very end did they start calling ticky tack fouls.


January 15th, 2013 at 8:43 PM ^

It seems like that rule generally holds true, except the #1 team in the country is usually protected by the refs. I wonder what would have happened if we played ohio after the new rankings came out, reflecting Duke's loss. Maybe we get another call or two? I think other conferences take care of their #1 teams moreso than the B1G does. But that's just my opinion.

gustave ferbert

January 15th, 2013 at 8:49 PM ^

I would tell my players to not take a charge.  They won't get it.  Rather, attempt to reach in on dribble drives at the very least it's not a shooting foul.   and If I were the home team, I would drive on every opportunity.  



January 15th, 2013 at 8:51 PM ^

Not just limited to college BB - you see plenty of this in the NBA as well. Much more so than hockey, football or baseball. I think it's a function of the way the crowd interacts with the players and the refs. They're so much closer to the action than in the other 3 sports and as a result, it's a lot easier for both the players and the refs to feed off the emotion and will of the crowd. The refs too often get caught up in it and instinctively side with the home team. Some refs are worse than others, but this has been a problem for the game for as long as I can remember watching basketball at any level. I don't think it will change anytime soon.


January 15th, 2013 at 9:21 PM ^

But the proximity of the crowd to the court, mixed with the highly judgmental nature of the calls is what creates the problem. In the NFL, for example, the crowds get loud but they are not right on top of the playing surface the way they are in a smaller venue like a college basketball court. As for the officials being professionals, I don't know.....basketball refs are awful. To me, they're like wrestling referees minus the steel chair.

snarling wolverine

January 15th, 2013 at 10:45 PM ^

Foul calls in basketball are extremely subjective.  If you're a ref, do you allow handchecking?  A shuffle or two on a screen?  An off-arm hook (Deshaun Thomas's speciality).  Is it a charge or block?   And then there's the issue of whether a foul is on the floor or in the act of shooting, or an intentional foul, or whether or not a guy traveled.  And on and on.  



January 15th, 2013 at 8:53 PM ^

The book Scorcasting talks a lot about this.  They argue (and I agree), that the "home field advantage" across all sports can be mostly linked to officiating.  College basketball, statisticaly has the largest home field (court) advantage in sports.  The books says its likely due to the objectivity of calls.  Most sports, major calls are more bright lined.  Basketball, its really more ambiguous as to when there is a call.

 What can be done about it??  Ummm. I've personally just accepted that its almost part of the game.  Makes home court mean something.  50/50 calls will go home teams way, so you just gotta play that much sharper on the road.


January 15th, 2013 at 10:20 PM ^

Do the higher seeds get more calls because they generally play regionals closer to home (i.e. Duke often plays early rounds in Charlotte or Greensboro)?  Just wondering.

I can't stand biased officiating, even if it benefits Michigan, because I never want the outcome decided by the refs.  As far as I'm concerned, refs do the best job when you barely notice they are there.




January 16th, 2013 at 1:10 PM ^

Totally agree, and this was also a place where our youth showed. If you're getting hand checked like that, you need to do something to call the ref's attention to it. Knock the hands away with your off arm, exaggerate the contact, do that move that Durant and Kobe do where they swing the ball through a hand check and go up for a shot, or do something else that either forces the ref to make a call or calls attention to the hand checking.


January 15th, 2013 at 8:55 PM ^

In the end, it's a wash.  I don't think any team (at least in our conference) benefits more so than others, so every time we lose a close game because of it, I feel confident that we'll get the makeup when the game comes back to Ann Arbor.  But I think it weakens the validity of the event itself.  It feels like it has a "part show" quality to it.  



January 15th, 2013 at 8:58 PM ^

Like other have said, I think officials in college basketball get caught in the emotion of the game moreso than other sport (and for good reason).  Nothing can be done about it, it's human nature. 


January 15th, 2013 at 9:03 PM ^

How about noise-cancelling headphones?  Half kidding of course, but I do feel like there has to be a way to lessen this effect.  To me, it really disrupts the integrity of the game.


January 15th, 2013 at 9:05 PM ^

It's kind of nice when it happens at home but then sometimes I feel like we're stealing points. It's horrible on the road. Refs are people too and I'm sure they subletly enjoy hearing the home crowd cheer instead of boo and enjoy seeing the poor team way behind get back in it. Hard to take that human element out of it


January 15th, 2013 at 9:06 PM ^

but also by people who actually study this stuff (Boyko 2007, Pierce 2009, AP 2009). Perhaps especially noteworthy was the Kelley School of Business 2009 study, which concluded that home teams should generally play more physcal, aggressive basketball to take full advatage of the bias.

Do you have links to these studies or any more information on how they were conducted?

Because if the main statistic that is considered is number of fouls for home teams vs. away teams, then it is pretty flawed.

We also have to consider that the home team generally plays better and because of that will foul less/draw fouls. To an untrained eye, it appears that the refs are giving the home team the benefit of the doubt, but that's not necessarily the case.

As a case in point: the 50/50 calls from the OSU game everyone was complaining about? I think there was only one that you could call "50/50." The rest were correct and if you watch the replay and know the rule, they weren't that close.


January 15th, 2013 at 10:38 PM ^

I meant to specify 50/50 charge/block calls.

Just because "every" close call went to OSU doesn't mean they were wrong. You have to analyze each call seperately. Perhaps one or two was wrong. Maybe none. There were probably one or two calls we got.

I'll break down the Stauskas charge here. Unfortunately there's no video to embed - I'm breaking this down from my DVR:

At 18:28 of the first half Stauskas committs a charge.  The common misconception is that if the defender is sliding, then it is a block. This is not true. A player must gain legal guarding position at the time the offensive player leaves the floor for his shot in order to earn a charge. Legal guarding position is defined as: being inbounds, having two feet on the floor, facing the defender, and in front of the defender. Once you gain legal guarding position, you may move sideways and backwards to maintain to so long as you are not moving into the offensive player (i.e. beat them to the spot).

For Stauskas' charge, while it's clear that Thomas' left foot was still sliding, it is also clear that at the point of Stauskas leaving the floor, Thomas was able to gain legal guarding position, took the hit to the chest and drew the charge. The fact that his feet were sliding is irrelevent to the rule.

I'd love to break down more of the calls, but seeing as my post was marked as flamebait, it would appear that some of our Maize and Blue glasses still haven't come off and we haven't returned to being able to discuss something objectively.

I genuinely would like to know how these studies were conducted.

I think it is pretty accurate to say that players play better at home - it's a legitimate question that needs to be addressed if you're going to look at this issue scientifically and objectively.

But whatever, feel free to flame me for trying to be objective and argue a reasonable viewpoint.


January 15th, 2013 at 10:44 PM ^

Also, here's a very good write-up of block/charge that uses the technical language in the rulebook, but also makes it readable and easy to understand.  Here's a key quote which I'm referring to when I say "whether his feet were still sliding is irrelevent."

After obtaining a legal guarding position, defensive players may move their feet “to maintain position in the path of the opponent.” After the legal guarding position is obtained, movement by the defensive player laterally to the sideline, to the defensive end line, or to the intersection thereof, absolves the defensive player from causing contact. Any contact on the torso of the defensive player after such movement, (which is not obliquely forward in the above movements) be it on front, side, or back of the torso, cannot be a foul on the defensive player.


Kilgore Trout

January 16th, 2013 at 12:27 AM ^

The technicalities of this all are very interesting. A couple of thoughts...

Saying that in general sliding feet are irrelevant is an over simplification in my opinion. Slidng feet very often indicate that the player is still trying to establish legal guarding position, especially when the player with the ball was not the defender's man to begin with. Rule 4, secction 35 of the NCAA basketball book says...

  • Guarding shall be the act of legally placing the body in the path of an offensive opponent. The guarding position shall be initially established and then maintained inbounds on the playing court.

I think this is an important part of legal guarding that you left out. The defender has to actually be in the offensive players path to establish legal guarding position. I basically agree with everything you're saying as long as the player has established position. Once a defender establishes position (including everything you cited AND being in the offensive player's path) the onus is on the offensive player not to contact the defender.

Rule 10, articles 8-10 are also interesting.

  • Art. 8. A dribbler shall neither charge into nor contact an opponent in the
    dribbler’s path nor attempt to dribble between two opponents or between an
    opponent and a boundary, unless the space is sufficient to provide a reasonable
    chance for the dribbler to pass through without contact.
  • Art. 9. When a dribbler passes an opponent sufficiently to have head and
    shoulders beyond the front of the opponent’s torso, the greater responsibility for
    subsequent contact shall be that of the opponent.
  • Art 10. When a dribbler has obtained a straight-line path, the dribbler may not be bumped, pushed or otherwise crowded out of that path. When an opponent is able to legally obtain a guarding position in that path, the dribbler shall avoid contact by changing direction or ending the dribble.

It almost seems like these consecutive articles contradict themselves. What I am taking out of all of this is that once you establish legal guarding position, as long as you don't jump out of your vertical plane or let the offensive guy get his head and shoulders past you, any contact he makes with you should be a charge.

But, I think an important part of legal guarding position is being in the path of the offensive player, so if a guy who was not initially guarding someone tries to slide in to take a charge, he has to establish himself in that path before the offensive guy leaves the ground. I think this is where the obsession with sliding feet comes in. If the guy coming over is still sliding his feet and moving, he wasn't established in the path of the offensive guy and it should be a block. If the guy was already guarding the ball handler and hadn't allowed the offensive player to get his head and shoulders past him, it doesn't matter if the defender is sliding their feet.


January 16th, 2013 at 9:32 AM ^

The way I was taught block/charge and the way it has been explained to be by college officials is that you establish the space in front of the defender with your body. In the Stauskas charge above, Thomas' body is in place - he takes a knee right to the chest. Yes, his left foot is still sliding, but he's established position with his body at the time Stauskas leaves the floor and he takes the hit straight on.

Can the feet be an indicator? Sure, but that's not the rule, which was my point.

It's not an obvious call. It's not an easy call. I think it was correct though and if you get someone that has no ties to either school that truly understands the rule, I'd be interested to see their interpretation. The feet sliding are deceptive, though.

My argument is that you can't point to a couple foul calls and say "it's because its the home team." Look at each call individually to first discern whether it was correct or not regardless of which team benefits.


January 16th, 2013 at 10:29 AM ^

I think you can make a case that the call is correct. In the larger picture, I think the stated interpretation of the rule is bad for the sport. Sliding under a guy as he elevates, even if you have position, shouldn't be part of basketball. The defensive player should be encouraged to contest the shot, not merely get his body in the way. It's dangerous, in that it constantly threatens to undercut the offensive player and it encourages flopping.

20 years ago, you never saw the amount of charging calls that are a part of the game today. I think it's Duke that really introduced it into the college game as a means for their small guards (Hurley, Collins, Wojeciowski) to defend against players who could elevate over them, but it's really become a plague on the game. I'd support a rule change that charging couldn't be called against a player in the air (either a block or a no call). That at least would discourage all of these late slide in charges that are really the bane of aggressive, driving basketball.

EDIT: the other thing it does is penalize a player who's legitimately trying to avoid the defender. In this play, when Stauskas jumps, he's not trying to go through Thomas, but to flank him to Stauskas's left. By Thomas continuing to slide (with LGP), it defeats the attempt of Stauskas to avoid contact. In short, this may be a correct call by the current interpretation, but the current interpretation is misguided.


January 15th, 2013 at 11:04 PM ^

I did not downvote you, and I know what a charge is.  The reason that sliding is often considered an indicator of a block is precisely because the defender is so frequently moving into the offensive player.  In my opinion, that was exactly the case here.  You can say "it's clear" as much as you want, but I see it very differently from you.  Thomas is not in front of Stauskas, he's certainly not facing him, and it's not even clear he has two feet on the floor.  Besides, an extremely literal interpretation of that defintion would require nearly every call to be a charge. Furthermore, a charge can only be obtained AFTER a guarding position is established. How you watch that and think Thomas established a legal guarding position is beyond me.

Btw, I've given you the year and the author. That should be plenty to get you started.  Sorry, but on a Tuesday night, I'm not giving you MLA or Bluebook on Mgoblog.


January 16th, 2013 at 9:37 AM ^

Exactly, its a Tuesday and you decided to start a thread about a general issue and spent an entire paragraph defending a point.

Sure you referenced a couple studies, but that's it. There's a study for everything. You could have actually analyzed the data gathering methods. You didn't that's fine, it just doesn't strengthen your argument.

I also don't have time to go look up studies - I would presume you've read them and could answer a simple question such as how a study made their conclusions.

I agree you can argue whether or not Thomas established LGP by the time Stauskas left the floor. I don't see how you can say he's not facing Stauskas. I don't see how you can say his feet are not on the floor. Those are both obvious from the picture. But we can agree to disagree on the timing of it. That's why it's a difficult call - a so called "50/50" call.


January 16th, 2013 at 12:10 PM ^

However you want to interpret the plain text of the rule (and I disagree with your interpretation of "establishing legal guarding position," but that's unimportant), that series of events is called a block WAY more often than it is a charge. The referees have established a firm precedent that what Thomas did is a block.

It's like people in baseball saying, "well, that pitch was outside the technical definition of the strike zone, so it's a ball." But if an umpire has been giving that same itch as a strike to the other team all day, it's justifiable to question the call.


January 15th, 2013 at 9:14 PM ^

I touched on this in a thread over the weekend.   I'm in my twenties and have watched lots of basketball over the years.  Growing up it was watching the Bulls, their first Championship year was when I really started watching and then on through the 90's.  In the mid-late 90's is when I started watching college basketball (Michigan, duh).  I was also playing ball by the late 90's, competetively.  Even though I knew the game fairly very well as a youth (we even watched film during the middle school years/traveling AAU years) I can guarantee I watch basketball differently now as an adult than back then.

What I'm doing a poor job of getting at, and this primarily but not soley goes to the older-than-me people here, is has the officiating seemed to change over the past, say, 20 years?  Is home crowd a bigger benefactor than it was in say, 1985, 1990, 1995, 1998, 2003?  What I posted the over the weekend was that to me, since I've been watching basketball as a teenager and an adult, which means back to the early 2000's, it seems over that over that span, ~10 years, that the officiating has changed.  For example, home court/crowd nowadays really is a benefit (especially in a close game) where, in my opinion, 10 years ago it wasn't as big a factor, for whatever reason. 

(The "Charging" rule/call has defnitely changed in my mind, that isn't even an opinion but a fact to me.  One used to have to have had the "spot" for, say at least a second, and now if one gets there two-tenths of a second before the ball carrier gets there a charge can be called; it's made the game more finesse and disallows many tactics of getting to the basket (for better or worse).  Other calls have evolved as well, as athletes are more superior nowadays, such as the rarity of "Over the Back" calls, NCAA basketball allowing more steps instead of a travel, etc..)


January 15th, 2013 at 9:43 PM ^

And you think officiated is MORE slanted now?!?

I think some it has stemmed from that, where they've taken most of the physical out of basketball. And the college rules have emulated the NBA's evolution. (if Jordan didn't invent the too many steps non-travel, he perfected it).

But I certainly don't think home field has gotten worse. If anything I'd say it's easier to win on the road. If you think Indiana is a tough place to win now, you should have seen what it was like when Bobby Knight was screaming at the refs. But if anything te parity of programs and scholarships just makes it tougher to be dominant at home.


January 16th, 2013 at 12:25 AM ^

Thanks for the feedback.  Through all of my writing there really was a question in there and you gave a good answer; again, I was curious if it was just me and my perception of the game nowadays or if there was something to the evolution (worsening?) of officiating.  The notion of Bobby Knight and Assembly Hall in the late 70's and 80's was actually a comparison I was envisioning, that and say, Cameron Indoor in the 90's.  Saying that it's actually easier these days is an interesting and probable thought.

As far as MJ and travelling, I guess I've never thought of him in that regard -as getting extra steps.  For me was Patrick Ewing was the epitome of "extra steps" (I can picture him now taking 3 1/2 steps across the lane for a mini hook-type shot).