New study proves referees are totally biased against our team

As a former soccer and longtime basketball official, the headline above definitely caught my eye. I wasn’t overly concerned, though, because the article was on a satirical news site called “The Babylon Bee.”

The article said: Sports researchers at Harvard have proven that the officials are totally biased against your favorite teams. Their report, entitled the Referee Equity and Fairness (REF) study, will be published next month in Sports Illustrated.

Dr. James Fairplay, the lead researcher on the study for more than two decades, said the results were hardly surprising. “We always suspected the refs were against you, but now we have empirical evidence to back up our hypothesis,” he noted. “The REF study proves that the referees, umpires, judges, and other officials at all levels of sport are most definitely always biased against your favorite teams.”

The study, which was the first of its kind, looked at thousands of sporting events since the year 2000. Researchers interviewed hundreds of players, coaches, and fans of all teams involved and asked them to rate the fairness of the officials on anonymous surveys.

“We found strong evidence of referee bias against your teams in every single survey,” Fairplay noted. “This was true at every level, from pee-wee to the pros, and even at the Olympics. Whichever teams you were rooting for, the refs were definitely against them. Honestly, we’re not sure why nobody picked up on this before.”

Fairplay also said referee bias is almost certainly the reason why your team didn’t make the playoffs last year, and why your fantasy team is doing so poorly. Now that the REF study is concluded, Fairplay said researchers will turn their attention to figuring out whether the broadcasters calling the game on TV are actively rooting against your favorite teams as well.

If you’re a ref-hater, remember, this story from The Babylon Bee is a spoof or joke. Don’t believe it.

To be fair, there are some legitimately interesting studies on officiating. For example, in 2007, a Harvard University study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that referees influenced by the crowd contribute to the home-field advantage.

When I walked onto the court at Hesston High School to officiate a basketball game, an older gentleman I knew quite well yelled at me from across the court, “Hey, Homer.” I would have laughed on the spot, but that wouldn’t look good, so I just shook my head.

Returning to the topic at hand, as a former official, I can assure you that officials don’t deliberately make bad calls against the teams involved. Notice I didn’t say we made all the right calls; only that the clunker calls weren’t on purpose.

Wait a second. There’s at least one exception. I was officiating a JV basketball game at Hope High School years ago, and my partner was getting irritated by the home crowd yelling for a 3-second call against the visiting team. The next time down the court, he called the quickest 3-second violation I’ve ever seen against the team whose crowd was complaining. Suffice it to say, the fans stopped yelling for 3-second calls.

As a fan, I notice the close or bad calls that go against my team more than the calls that go against the other team. Chalk it up to human nature. As long as we’re rooting for a team, there’s no way we can be completely unbiased. Fans will never be as unbiased as the officials who don’t have a rooting interest in the outcome.

While I can’t remember intentionally making bad calls against a player or team, I confess that there was the occasional jerk on the basketball court who tested my resolve on occasion. And yes, human nature sometimes prevailed.

For example, while I don’t remember intentionally making a bad call against an athlete, there were times when I thought to myself, “If there’s a 50-50 call involving that athlete who is being a pain, he or she isn’t getting the benefit of the doubt from me!”

In other words, we officials have feelings, too, and are all human.

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