NBA games will be viewed dif­fer­ently due to ref­eree bet­ting scan­dal

‘ Now they will have to deal with the fall­out’

The Covington News - - SPORTS - By Jim Litke

No­body will look at an NBA game the same way for some time.

That’s as true for ca­sual fans as it is for the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors even now por­ing over video­tape of ev­ery game of exref­eree Tim Don­aghy, ac­cused of bet­ting on games over the last two sea­sons.

The ques­tion of whether Don­aghy ma­nip­u­lated games is best left to the U.S. At­tor­ney’s of­fice in Brook­lyn. How he might have done it is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

“There’s three groups that gam­blers can work with to get what they want — play­ers, coaches and of­fi­cials,” said Mike Mathis, who ref­er­eed for 26 years in the NBA be­fore re­tir­ing in 2001. “And the one that needs the least amount of help by far, is the of­fi­cial.

“Com­mon sense tells you those guys in Ve­gas are aw­fully good at set­ting the point spread, so in most games, at the end, they’re right in the hunt.”

The foul call that in­spires the loud­est howls of protests late in any game comes when a player drives to the bas­ket and draws con­tact, re­quir­ing the ref to de­cide whether to whis­tle charg­ing or block­ing. The NBA has tried to nar­row the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the rule by carv­ing out a por­tion of the lane for de­fend­ers. It’s been part of a larger ef­fort by the league to quell on-court dis­sent by play­ers and coaches, and quiet com­plaints by fans about in­com­pe­tent of­fi­ci­at­ing, let alone con­spir­acy the­o­rists.

But the ev­i­dence sug­gests that tak­ing away some of the refs’ dis­cre­tionary pow­ers and mak­ing the re­view process less trans­par­ent has had just the op­po­site ef­fect. Many ob­servers would ar­gue — and ESPN. com’s Bill Sim­mons has been down­right pre­scient on the is­sue for two sea­sons now — the qual­ity of the NBA’s of­fi­ci­at­ing crews is at an all-time low.

And as any­body who watched Dwyane Wade shoot 25 free throws in Game 5 of the 2006 fi­nals — as many as the en­tire Dal­las Mav­er­icks team — will re­call, the charg­ing­block­ing con­tin­uum re­mains as con­fus­ing as ever. Be­sides, there are eas­ier and less de­tectable ways to ma­nip­u­late games.

Try­ing to help one team win, or even ad­just­ing the mar­gin of vic­tory — the point spread — are way too risky; ei­ther tac­tic likely would have pro­duced pat­terns that the league’s su­per­vi­sory of­fi­ci­at­ing crews or the Ve­gas book­mak­ers who set the point spreads would have been quick to spot. Much tougher to catch would be a ref fo­cused on ma­nip­u­lat­ing the over-un­der line.

An over-un­der bet, one of sev­eral “propo­si­tion” bets avail­able at sports books, re­quires pick­ing whether the two teams play­ing will score more or less than the com­bined num­ber of points pre­dicted. Find a game where the overun­der bet is around 190 points and an as­tute ref has a num­ber of tools to in­flu­ence the out­come ei­ther way.

Say Kobe Bryant or Kevin Gar­nett picks up a quick foul early in a game — le­git­i­mately. All a crooked ref has to do next is tack on a sec­ond soon af­ter, then sit back.

Ev­ery­body in the build­ing knows what’s next,” Mathis said. “The coach pulls the guy. And if a team that has a tough enough time scor­ing with a su­per­star has to play long stretches with­out him well ...”

In an up-and-down game where points flow freely in the first half, a ref sub­tly be­gins ac­cel­er­at­ing the pace of the foul calls early at the out­set of the third quar­ter, spreads those calls around so no one is in dan­ger of foul­ing out, and gets both teams into the bonus sit­u­a­tion by early in the fourth.

Mathis said he never even con­sid­ered how a ref might work the over-un­der sce­nario, but he did point out that the more calls a ref has to make, the more he risks rais­ing the sus­pi­cions of not just play­ers, coaches and of­fi­cials, but the other two mem­bers of the of­fi­ci­at­ing crew. But he con­tends even that ob­sta­cle can be over­come.

“Now that I’m re­tired, I get calls all the time from coaches, as­sis­tants and GMs who want me to ex­plain what they’re see­ing. Or I watch a game, see a guy three feet from the play get whis­tled and hear the an­nouncer say, ‘I guess the ref saw some­thing we didn’t.’

“And my an­swer,” Mathis said, “is, ‘No he didn’t.’ That means one of three things went on. The ref guessed. He’s in­com­pe­tent. Or there’s funny stuff go­ing on.”


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