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Monday, December 10, 2007
Freakonomics and NBA Officiating

Ian Ayres has a piece in the November 2007 issue of the Economists' Voice urging NBA Commissioner David Stern to "give Freakonomics a chance" as a way to get to the bottom of whether there is pervasive point-shaving or other cheating by NBA officials. Ayres argues that the emerging field of forensic econometrics has been successful in presenting statistical evidence of misconduct, including match-fixing in sumo wrestling, possible point-shaving in college basketball, and racial bias among NBA officials.

Ayres current concern is the case of former official Tim Donaghy, who has confessed to gambling on games he officiated and to manipulating calls to benefit himself and other gamblers. The NBA has insisted that Donaghy was an isolated bad-apple employee. Ayres argues that the league should be more substantively transparent in order to prove to fans that they can trust the league and its officials. Releasing its internal officiating data (tracking which refs made what calls in each game) for study by outside forensic statisticians goes a long way to restoring that trust--whether by assuring fans that the league is, indeed, clean or by exposing more malfeasance and giving the league a chance to really clean itself up.

(Cross-Posted at PrawfsBlawg)


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