There is a massive flurry of discussion on the boards and the blog against last night’s game against Duke. So ‘Pride, why are you writing yet another article about the game? Simple: because I found something that had been posted prior to last night’s game that was interesting. Ironically, it was sitting right under my nose on the message boards.
Just as a clarification, THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE DUKE GAME, but that game definitely inspired the article. If you want to talk Duke, go to our other articles about the same topic (“The Silver Lining“, “Leave the ACC! LEAVE IT NOW!“).
User “projecttwentynine” posted in our “ACC officiating” thread about the general state of fouls called for and against various opponents and the differential between those two values for different teams in the ACC. Most interesting to me was who topped the list of ‘foul differentials’ for the last 5 seasons.
- UNC had the largest foul differential between fouls FOR and fouls AGAINST of any team in the ACC for the past 5 years except 1.
- The one season UNC didn’t lead the ACC in foul differentials, they were second with NC State leading the Pack, however the year NC State was #1 on the list represents the “smallest” maximum differential of any year (in other words, no one had a massive differential in fouls compared to other years).
- Over the last 5 years, UNC has averaged almost 5 less foul a game than their opponent (that is potentially a total of an extra 10-15 points per game than their opponent).
If you need some graphical bearing on how foul discrepancy looks over the last five years, take a look.
From this, it’s pretty easy to see that it’s not just that fouls are a little unfair, there are DRAMATICALLY unfair, at least between NC State and their key rivals. Just to put things into better perspective, here is the entire ACC’s foul descrepencies with UNC’s highlighted.
As they use to say on a popular children’s show, one of these things is not like the other; one of these things is not the same. There really is not explanation.
Just to give everyone another perspective, here is the 5-year average for every ACC team. Note the dramatic difference between the foul differential for UNC compared to everyone else.
It’s also worth stating that the top three teams (lower is better) are commonly our most hated teams to play: UNC, Duke, and Maryland.
AN ANOMALY IN SEARCH OF A RATIONAL EXPLANATION
I considered if it was because UNC was somehow just “consistently more talented” and that somehow caused a higher foul differential. The first place I automatically went to was what a Carolina alumnus in my office once said; Carolina might just be a team that plays very aggressively and when you play aggressively and are comfortable with it, you’re going to force the other team to play uncomfortably aggressive, drawing more fouls. If that is the case, I would expect that Carolina might just foul an “average” amount and their opponents might be doing all the dirty work. Let’s see if that’s true.
Well, it would appear that this isn’t true at all. UNC has the fewest fouls called against them over the last five years of any team. So apparently the solid explanation that UNC is simply a “physical team” doesn’t really fly, especially when you consider the various, less aggressive offensive styles out there in the ACC and UNC still manages to beat everyone else in the fouls called against them.
EDIT: Some may suggest that this is simply an affect of being a team with top-notch talent playing with high athletic IQs. If you want to accept this, I would question why year-in and year-out, UNC is at the top of the dogpile for foul discrepancy yet DUKE is actually the team that has been more consistently appearing and winning the ACC tournament. I would also point to the ’07-’08 NC State season and note that even though NC State lead the ACC in foul discrepancy, they by no means had the best talent in the conference.
SO WHAT ARE SOME ROUGH CONCLUSIONS
The conclusions were probably obvious before reading the article, but let me first say what we know for a fact is true.
- Carolina doesn’t get fouled. Whether their name is “Carolina” or “NC State” or “Murray State” or “Rowan-Cabarrus Community College” doesn’t matter. The fact that any “trend” can be established for any institution above others shows that something is wrong with officiating in general.
- Most other schools have fairly randomized foul discrepancies when you look at the 5-year average. This means that some teams do a little better some years and a little better others. Carolina is the only team that has consistently done better than everyone else. If everyone’s performance around them is completely randomized, in a world of perfect or at least unbiased officiating, how can Carolina maintain any kind of trend?
- Officials are people to. They live, eat, breath, and have flaws just like the rest of us. If they are flawed people, they can make mistakes and those can manifest themselves in the form of biases and bad calls. Simply because an official is paid to not make mistakes doesn’t mean you can assume it never happens.
- To be fair, not all these stats are for strictly ACC play, but even many of the OOC games involve the ACC officials so I’m not sure that’s such a factor.
So getting back to this article, what is my conclusion? The only logical conclusion I get arrive at is that look at the last five years, biases have been introduced into officiating. Regardless of who is benefiting from the bias, if one exists it brings into question the full body of work. It especially brings into question the “what ifs” over the last 5 years. What “if” UNC didn’t have an additional 10-15 free throws per game? How many games has UNC won within this margin? How many tournament games would this have changed in the ACC? How different would the ACC standings look?
I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s fair to say you can’t point at any one game and say, “We would have won if it hadn’t of been for the officiating.” I get it, I really do. At the same time, it’s just flat-out ignorant to turn your head the other way, spread your buttcheeks, and gladly proclaim that no bias exists and that it isn’t a factor that could, and likely has, affected the outcome of multiple games over a several year period.
Can you answer the hypothetical questions I posed? No? Sure would be nice if we didn’t have to ask them in the first place.
Just as a sidenote, one poster mentioned in the forums that they had sent an e-mail to a certain ‘senior athletics department official’ thanking them for their efforts and ending with this…
PS. If Coach Gottfried were to ever get fined by the ACC for speaking his mind about the current state of officiating in our conference, I’ll donate $50 to paying for the fine he’ll receive.”
The response he received? “That day may not be far ahead, my friend.” Obviously a comment made in jest, but honest question for the great State Fans Nation: who would blame Coach Gottfried for accomplishing so much with so little and being dropped into a situation with so many unanswered questions outside of his team’s control?