Just Incase You Missed It: Officiating

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.


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. 


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?

About NCStatePride

***ABOUT THE AUTHOR: NCStatePride has been writing for StateFansNation.com since 2010 and is a 2009 graduate of the College of Engineering.

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57 Responses to Just Incase You Missed It: Officiating

  1. Manu Ginobili 02/17/2012 at 1:17 PM #

    Thanks Pride for the article. Just a couple of (unimportant) statistical suggestions from a fellow engineer (if any UNC grad/student happens to read this, I assume they will not understand what I am talking about. Don’t worry my friend, you can go back to your folklore studies degree now). Add some kind of evaluation to your analysis, such as a simple t-test or similar. Just to make sure that the difference in UNC favor is statistically significant (I assume it is).

    Also, why only five years? It would also be interesting to see how the foul differential in favor of UNC changed over the years with different coaches (was it the same when V was around? how long did it take for K to have games turn in his favor such as last night?), ACC referees (what is the average duration of an ACC referee contract?), etc. In any rate, I agree with your conclusions!

  2. NCStatePride 02/17/2012 at 1:25 PM #

    Hey, I would love to expand the stats, but 5 years is what ProjectTwentyNine offered and as much as a cop-out as it sounds, I simply don’t have the time to go through and do too much more without someone else exporting the raw data for me. That being said, I agree that an analysis of how things were when V was around would be interesting if not fairly important to the overall subject.

    Also agree with the other analyses that would be useful. Again, time constraints and “volunteer writing” have it’s drawbacks, I guess. Hopefully I can do a more indepth analysis later one. I also think it would be interesting to isolate each team’s ACC-only stats for fouls for and against. My guess would be that it would only enhance the effects seen here.

  3. SqlWolf 02/17/2012 at 1:25 PM #

    I like Manu’s suggestions, especially the t-test and additional historical comparisons. I also suggest broadening the comparison to other “consistently” top 10 programs such as Kentucky.

  4. Manu Ginobili 02/17/2012 at 1:45 PM #

    I know Pride that it would take a long time to develop such analysis, but maybe some die-hard NC State fan majoring in statistics can do it for his/her senior design project!

  5. pbp4th 02/17/2012 at 1:45 PM #

    Look, I hate Carolina as much or more than you do. I’ve been a Duke fan since ’83. Went to school there. Live in NC now. But the idea that there is some mass foul calling conspiracy (conscious or otherwise) is a bit silly.

    NCStatePride: Alright, let’s explore this. First of all, if you even bothered to read the article, you’ll note that I specifically mention that my main conclusion doesn’t even, specifically, have to do with Carolina. Despite the fact you didn’t read the article and are already forming opinions, I’ll rip this response apart.

    It’s far more plausible that the foul differencial has to do with playing with the lead on a regular basis (typically encouraging the opponent to foul more frequently – especially late).

    NCStatePride: Alright… so why does UNC have such an advantage over Duke in Foul Discrepancy. Remember, it is DUKE that has been more consistently winning the ACC tourney as of late, not UNC.

    Further, better atheletes move their feet while poorer ones tend to reach to defend instead of moving their feet to stay in front of their opponent. Despite, Dean and Roy’s inability to capitalize with more championships, no one can argue that UNC gets all of the prime talent they can handle.

    NCStatePride: I added a note in my article to address this but again, if this is true then why such a huge jump from Duke’s average foul discrepancy compared to UNCs? That makes no sense.

    I’ve heard Billy Packer and countless others make the same arguement against Duke. I guess it is hard to hear that your team might just not be as good. It’s not my fault Vic Bubas told Billy he couldn’t come to Durham.

    NCStatePride: Yep. We are so irrelevant that you decided to create a user name and post on our blog. Are you sure that nearly getting beat… at home… when you are topped ranked doesn’t have you just a little… nervous?

  6. GAWolf 02/17/2012 at 1:59 PM #

    all the SFN statistics guys impress the he’ll out of me with their fancy graphs and pictures. I don’t even know how to draw a bar graph with a pencil.

  7. Smasher 02/17/2012 at 2:09 PM #

    Isn’t it about time some enterprising Stats major at our great University take this topic on as his Senior project or something?

    I’d also like to see how these fouls are breaking out on a per referee basis to see if any of them are particularly worse than any other.

    And…I’d like to go back and find any given game where either UNC or Duke got particularly screwed on a call (lulz, never happen) and see if any of those officials (or perhaps the one that blew the call) magically officiates fewer and fewer UNC/Duke games after the blown call than before.

  8. MrPlywood 02/17/2012 at 2:11 PM #

    ^ “It’s far more plausible that the foul differencial has to do with playing with the lead on a regular basis”

    And there’s the rub. State had a huge lead and all of a sudden they feel the urge to foul? That’s not the way it usually works. Duke is the team who had to come out and play more aggressively, yet the BrothersPlum ended up with 3 fouls between them. 3. 3 fouls. Did I say 3?

    The tweet-fest early in the second half set the stage. We have a short bench. I’m now thinking that State should have left the guys in and tried to build the lead to freaking 30 points… maybe that would have been enough.

    The aforementioned sequence with Painter says it all: Painter gets fouled on a shot under the basket. No call. Painter falls to the floor, Dookie trips over him, Painter called for the foul. 4 point swing.

  9. Manu Ginobili 02/17/2012 at 2:18 PM #

    ^ Plywood, I remember the same play! You forget to mention that after the foul is called on Painter, the Dookie angrily bounced the ball and said something to Painter, referee next to him. No technical was called, of course.

    Edit: I found this on the ncsu meme facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2975208392511&set=o.292872707432632&type=1&theater

  10. MrPlywood 02/17/2012 at 2:22 PM #

    Right Manu. I remember you pointing that out. A Duke player had a similar reaction earlier in the game. Usually #2 gets you the T…

    I found a nice summary at IC of all places, where the level headed realize what they saw last night…

    “The point in the game where the refs really had an impact was between 11:33 and 9:23. At 11:33 [State] was up by 18 with Brown going to the line. After the TV timeout, Brown hit both to make the lead 20. Over the next 2:10, state was whistled for its 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th fouls. In that time dook outscored the pack 9-0. 6 of the 9 came from the FT line. And coincidentally the run started right after a TV timeout.

    Look at who those fouls are on- Howell, Williams, and Leslie (who was having a huge impact) – all 3 already in foul trouble. For dook- Thornton and Hairston picked up 2 each- wow big ******* deal- they were instructed to make the game physical as possible- K knows they won’t call every foul on his team at home especially after calling so many so early in the half.”

  11. gopack10 02/17/2012 at 2:37 PM #

    Anyone know where I can get archived video footage of the game. I forgot to DVR the second half and I wanted to see some of the plays. Not highlights just the full video. Thanks.

  12. statemech 02/17/2012 at 2:59 PM #

    I think these statistics would be more compelling if we normalized the data. Rather than simply using average fouls per game, try average fouls per possession. I think we will see that UNC-CH’s fouls/possession is TINY compared with the rest of the conference. Just a suggestion (i’m too lazy and I don’t know where to get the stats to do this myself)

    I forget where but somewhere on this site someone was posting national stats and included some analysis that took into account possessions and scoring and fouls.

  13. Rick 02/17/2012 at 3:05 PM #

    “It’s far more plausible that the foul differencial has to do with playing with the lead on a regular basis (typically encouraging the opponent to foul more frequently – especially late).”

    Then why would Duke have fewer fouls than NCSU last night. They led the ENTIRE game and yet remarkably were called for more fouls.

    Time for some back tracking.

  14. Rick 02/17/2012 at 3:06 PM #

    “I don’t even know how to draw a bar graph with a pencil.”

    Strange for someone with such familiarity with a bar…

  15. NCStatePride 02/17/2012 at 3:13 PM #


    To statemech’s point, fouls per play would be awesome…. and time intensive. Feel free to look it up and provide some raw data.

    The fact that a trend exists is obvious. To my main point, if a trend EXISTS it opens the field to questions as to WHY it exists and whether it is acceptable, regardless of who is benefiting.

  16. golf76 02/17/2012 at 3:23 PM #

    Excellent post. I don’t know anything about how the ACC evaluates officials but my guess is this type of analysis has never been done before. I also think that in all sports, as athletes become more physically equal, fundamentals coaching becomes more precise (including on court acting to give the impression of a charge, etc.), and the science of the game (whatever that game is) becomes more complex, it is likely that any one call, or one period of time in the game (say two minutes), are likely to more frequently determine the outcome of any contest, whether the calls are biased or not.

  17. YogiNC 02/17/2012 at 3:43 PM #

    While this may or may not be a conspiracy it goes to the old saying that “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you”. One thing that I’d like to see (and would be glad to put my name on it) would be to threaten a class action suit against the ACC officiating AND Swofford. Maybe that’s a touch over the top, but until you get someone’s attention nothing changes. What would be especially interesting would be to gather video data to go along with this, especially in games where there is a large discrepancy. Some of the phantom fouls I’ve been seeing lately would make some pretty damning evidence and addition to some of the blatant stuff that isn’t called (Painter getting clobbered by Dawkins and then Painter being called for the foul as he fell down comes readily to mind).

  18. wolf8895 02/17/2012 at 3:58 PM #

    Don’t know if this will come out right. Just a quick run through.

    Compiled from statsheet: (numbers rounded to fit space, ACC Only, 11-12 season)

    Poss/G PF PF/Poss PF opp PF/P Diff Diff/G
    UNC 71.00 167.00 0.21 212.00 0.27 0.06 4.09
    Maryland 70.00 205.00 0.27 226.00 0.29 0.03 1.91
    Wake Forest 64.92 191.00 0.25 211.00 0.27 0.03 1.67
    NC State 67.55 172.00 0.23 183.00 0.25 0.01 1.00
    Clemson 63.91 181.00 0.26 186.00 0.26 0.01 0.45
    Boston College 64.83 183.00 0.24 186.00 0.24 0.00 0.25
    Duke 67.09 218.00 0.30 219.00 0.30 0.00 0.09
    Virginia 59.55 167.00 0.25 149.00 0.23 -0.03 -1.64
    Georgia Tech 63.73 193.00 0.28 173.00 0.25 -0.03 -1.82
    Virginia Tech 62.64 188.00 0.27 167.00 0.24 -0.03 -1.91
    FSU 65.91 213.00 0.29 191.00 0.26 -0.03 -2.00
    Miami (FL) 67.27 185.00 0.25 160.00 0.22 -0.03 -2.27

  19. wolf8895 02/17/2012 at 3:59 PM #

    Wow that’s ugly. Gist is this.

    PF Diff/G
    UNC 4.090909091
    Maryland 1.909090909
    Wake Forest 1.666666667
    NC State 1
    Clemson 0.454545455
    Boston College 0.25
    Duke 0.090909091
    Virginia -1.636363636
    Georgia Tech -1.818181818
    Virginia Tech -1.909090909
    FSU -2
    Miami (FL) -2.272727273

  20. tdouble 02/17/2012 at 4:59 PM #

    does this take into account end of game situations where teams are losing and must foul in order to come back?

  21. Wufpacker 02/17/2012 at 6:47 PM #

    Funny, it appeared to me that the data IN the graphs isolated UNC.

  22. Wufpacker 02/17/2012 at 6:51 PM #

    Dangit! When you delete posts it makes those who have already responded look mentally deranged. I realize that’s a thin line for some of us, but we don’t need no stinking help with it.

  23. NCStatePride 02/17/2012 at 6:53 PM #

    wolf8895 – Thanks for the stats. Definitely ads to the conversation.

    tdouble – That it does not, and there is something to be said for that. Still, I would point at Duke again. If it was a matter of teams winning drawing more fouls, why is the difference between Duke and the ACC so much different than that of UNC and the rest of the ACC? Remember, UNC isn’t the team that’s been dominating the ACC tournament, by-in-large.

    Wufpacker – HAHA! Sorry, but generally I maintain a high opinion of most Dookies and he was quickly degrading that reputation. I just couldn’t take it anymore. But very good point. The guy was talking about inferiority complexes with Maryland, et al, but the article only points out Carolina. Moreso, I think so many people are missing the point that is pretty clearly stated in the final paragraphs of the article: it’s not that it’s so upsetting that UNC gets X-number of fouls more than their opponents as much as it is that there should be no trend….. period. At least not that distinguishable of one.

  24. pbp4th 02/17/2012 at 7:06 PM #

    “The tweet-fest early in the second half set the stage. We have a short bench. I’m now thinking that State should have left the guys in and tried to build the lead to freaking 30 points… maybe that would have been enough.”

    If you want the facts, Duke went on a 7-0 run during that first 5 minute “tweat fest” beginning the second half. The foul count during that run? Duke 7 – State 4. Sorry to get the facts in the way of a good story.

    Here are some suggestions for numbers your students could research: (1) how far a FT % drops when someone doubles their misses on the year in a single night (2) how to divide 200 minutes by 7 people instead of 9. (3) how wide a basketball court is relative to the size of Lorenzo Brown’s shoe. (4) you could calculate the distance between the basket and where Howell and Leslie decided to pick up their fifth fouls. (5) how many more shots a team could miss and still win by 5 if they have 5 turnovers instead 15.

  25. Wufpacker 02/17/2012 at 7:10 PM #

    Cool. SFN has students now?

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