Is the fix in?

Jul 24, 2007 |
By: Jon Campbell
Is the fix in?

If you're looking for the best official in the NBA, speaking from a betting statistics point of view, your search would end at Dick Bavetta.

You know Dick Bavetta. He was the senior citizen who raced Charles Barkley for charity during this past season’s All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. He gave Sir Charles that drooly kiss when it was all over and made us all wish he’d settled for a post-race handshake.

Well this past season, the 67-year-old taught his colleagues a lesson in officiating when the teams he refereed went a perfect .500 against the spread (40-40-2) and posted a 41-41 over/under record.

He is Commissioner David Stern’s grey-shirted dream.

Only two other officials came close enough to the .500 mark in both home ATS and over/under records to merit mentioning: Marc Davis (31-33-5 ATS, 34-34-1 O/U) and Bill Kennedy (36-36-0 ATS, 35-36-1 O/U).

To me that makes this old guy Bavetta pretty impressive. Even last year his home ATS record was 41-43 and his over/under record wasn’t overly lopsided by NBA standards at 46-37.

But do you know what?

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If you wanted to, if you really wanted to, you could make a case that Bavetta was fixing games based on the numbers alone.

For example, nobody saw more personal fouls in the games he reffed over the past two years (6714) and nobody’s crew had a higher personal foul-per-game average (48) than Bavetta.

Nobody saw more free-throw attempts in the games in which he officiated (7737) either, and nobody saw more foul-outs (78).

And if you want the most convincing evidence of all, just ask a Utah Jazz fan if they remember Game 6 of the NBA Finals back in 1998 – then run. 

Bavetta disallowed a Howard Eisley three-pointer at the end of the first half that Bavetta mistakenly waved off because he thought time had expired. The image of Michael Jordan hitting the winning shot over Byron Russell to give the Bulls a one-point victory has now been branded into every NBA fan’s memory.

But does all that make Bavetta a game-fixer?

I doubt it. 

Our newest celebrity NBA referee, Tim Donaghy, is the only official to average more foul-outs per game than Bavetta with a .580 mark over the past two seasons and that has led some to jump the gun and point the guilty finger before any verdicts have been passed.

The theory behind this is that if you want to control a game as an official, you do it by calling fouls. In particular, if you want a game to go over the posted total, more fouls would do a bankroll good. More free throws equals more free points and more time on the clock is stopped.

Donaghy’s fouls are high therefore he’s guilty, goes the logic. 

I’m not saying Donaghy is innocent – there are a few things in his numbers that make me raise my eyebrows and I’ll get into that in a bit – but if you’re looking for the magic trend that you can point to and say with 100 percent certainty this guy should be dragged out in shackles, bypass the courtroom and go straight to jail, you won’t find it.

The Las Vegas oddsmakers we spoke with recently said there wasn’t anything in the numbers to tip them off and nobody in our Covers.com newsroom picked up on anything illegal either.

You can blame the NBA for that. There are so many inconsistencies in the betting statistics for NBA officials that the only consistency is inconsistency.

Twelve of the 60 NBA officials (20 percent) from last season recorded home team ATS records that had a differential of at least 10 games, whether it was in favor of the home team’s record or the other way around. Compare that to the fact only four of the 30 teams in the NBA had ATS records with differentials in the double-digits: Toronto, New Orleans, Sacramento and Minnesota. Only one other team had a differential of nine games (Denver) and every other team had a differential of seven or lower.

In short, if you want to bet on a single team every game all season your chances of making a big profit are slim. Bet on a single official every game and your chances increase significantly.

In one official’s case, Jess Kersey, the visiting team went 42-18-1 against the number in games he officiated – a difference of 24 games in favor of the visitor. That’s too many, even if we are talking about betting statistics here.

I’m not saying Kersey has done anything illegal, I’m just saying the NBA needs to make adjustments so the fans, players, and yeah, the bettors, can know what to expect. The variance from one referee to another has become so great that many bettors don’t even bother with the NBA anymore and we’re seeing players and coaches get more fed up with NBA officiating every year.

I ditched betting on the NBA a long time ago other than the occasional mini wager here and there. I don’t watch for fun either; it’s too frustrating watching fingernail fouls or a ref with a grudge decide a basketball game and I’m far from the only one who bitches about it. 

To respond to that, the NBA cracked down on technical fouls this season. Now they tee-up guys if you smirk on the bench or do anything but shake his hand for making such a fantastic call. The message has become clear: no smirking. No criticism.  

But Stern claims differently. He claimed last year the NBA has ''the best officials, the best-monitored officials, the best-developed officials in all of sports.” He claims refs are reviewed after nearly every game. Then how did a little thing like Tim Donaghy’s point-shaving scandal happen in this league?

If what Stern says is true, the NBA would have been the first one to catch on to Donaghy’s alleged scandal, if it in fact happened. They are after all, the only ones who hold the exact stats for each official’s fouls on a game-by-game, quarter-by-quarter basis.

They would have been able to see exactly if anything was up with Donaghy’s foul calling patterns long ago. We can only give you the average numbers he saw per game throughout the season, which is affected each night by the crew with which he works.

We do know Donaghy leads all NBA officials with an average of 56.9 free throws per game over the past two seasons in games in which he’s reffed. For all we know however, he just got stuck with different whistle-happy refs every night and he is unjustly slapped with this tag as a foul junkie.

That’s not the way it went, but only the NBA knows exactly how many fouls Donaghy called on a game-by-game basis.

It begs some key questions: If reports are true that Donaghy’s alleged game fixing incidents happened over the past two seasons, how did the NBA miss it? And how could they have let him continue officiating if other reports that claim federal authorities informed the NBA of the possible situation back in January are actually true? 

Donaghy did five playoff games this year, which incidentally saw an over/under ratio of 4-1. I’m not sure how David Stern could ever step in front of the microphones Tuesday when he holds a press conference and say “We knew about this in January” and expect the NBA world to ever respect him again.   

Then again, the NBA can’t possibly say there was absolutely nothing fishy about Donaghy either, or they’d have to own up to those inconsistencies to which I was referring and admit their entire reffing system needs an overhaul.

Here are the numbers and factors that are making me raise questions about Donaghy and you can make your own judgements:

- The ‘over’ went 10-2 in his games this season in which the over/under was set at 184 ½ or lower. Only one official had a more distorted record in that situation, Mike Smith, who went 13-2. In theory, it would be easier to help a game with a total of 184 ½ go over than it would be to make a game with a total of 205 go over. The over was 7-11 in Donaghy’s games in which the total was 205 or higher.

- After a Jan. 6 game between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz in which the pointspread moved 6 ½ points and the over/under moved 4 ½ points before game time, Donaghy didn’t ref another game for nine days until Jan. 15 when the Raptors played the Sixers on Jan. 15. That was the biggest line move Donaghy saw all season and the break afterwards was by far his longest layoff of the season. Coincidence? Melo, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith all sat out that game for the Nuggets, which explains the line move, but not Donaghy’s subsequent time off.

- Over the past 10 seasons dating back to 97-98, Donaghy is a 52.3 percent ‘over’ official at 317-289. Last season the over was 43-29, a ratio of 59.7 percent. These numbers aren’t far off from 01-02 and 02-03, but in 03-04 and 04-05 he strangely became an ‘under’ official. In those last two seasons the over went 59-74 for a 45.7 percent over ratio. 

- On Feb. 26, 2007 Donaghy reffed a game between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat at MSG. The Knicks won and covered as 4-point favorites but they also held a free-throw advantage of 39-8. The Heat openly questioned the officiating after the game.

- On Feb. 18, 2006 Donaghy called a mysterious three-second defensive violation on the Indiana Pacers with a little over a minute left in a game they were leading the San Antonio Spurs by five. Manu Ginobili then went and made the free-throw and then a three-pointer on the next possession to help the Spurs to a 92-88 win. The Pacers still covered the spread, but the 13 points scored in the final 1:28 allowed the game to go over by 5 ½ points. 

- In the last six games of Donaghy’s this past season that saw the over/under move by at least two points, the winning bet came in on the other side. In his last game of the season between Phoenix and San Antonio for instance, the line moved down from 202 ½ to 200 ½ but the over cashed in easily as the winner with 209 total points in the game.

- The over is 26-8 over the past two seasons for Donaghy’s games in which the total was set between 195 and 204 1 ½.    

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