Replacement Referees: Influence on 2009-2010 Handicapping and Betting? (9/20/09)

Now that the NBA referees have been locked out, we are stuck with replacement refs for at least a portion of the 2009-2010 season.  The real question for NBA bettors and handicappers is how this will influence the lines and game results.  As if the games weren’t hard enough to handicap based on the actual players, now we have to deal with the referees too.

As we have seen with the Tim Donaghy situation, the refs have tremendous influence over the game results.  I found this quote on Donaghy that I thought was fascinating:  “During the two years prior (i.e., 03/04 and 04/05) he called significantly less fouls than the average NBA referee (his games scored more than Las Vegas expected only 44% of the time). During his last two seasons he called significantly more fouls than average (his games scored more than Las Vegas expected 57% of the time).”  This tends to beg the question for this season’s bettors and linesmakers of ‘how frequently will fouls be called by the replacement refs’?  Will the refs allow a very physical game or will they seek to try and keep control of the games with nitpicky foul calling?  If they allow a physical game, then which NBA teams benefit from this style of play and how will this affect the point spreads in those games?

And what about the pressure to satisfy the home team?  Are these refs going to be biased to the actual court they are on so they don’t get booed out of the arena?  Subconciously those guys don’t want to be hated by the fans and even an extra call or two to keep that night’s home fans happy can really affect the line and betting results.  Same thing for calls on the ‘all-stars’.  Garnett, Allen, Pierce, Rasheed and Rondo on the court versus Harris, Lee, Simmons, Jianlian and Lopez?  Who do you think gets the best calls in that matchup from unskilled refs?

I doubt any of the replacement refs will actually do anything dishonest, but these guys get paid very little and have no job security at all since they will likely be fired when the lockout ends.  But you definitely have to ask yourself just how susceptible the situation might be to another ‘Donaghy’ type incident.  At the very least, the smart money will have a scouting report on most of these replacements and may have advance information on their tendencies to which the public has no access.  It definitely makes the first few weeks tricky.

I’m sure the NBA higher ups are meeting with these replacement referees and I’d love to be privy to the instructions they are getting.  It sure would make the first few weeks easier to bet knowing how these replacement referees were going to conduct the games. 

I wish I could tell you exactly how to use the replacement refs to your advantage, but all I really know at this point is that it might be prudent to be extra selective for the first couple of weeks and maybe keep the betting units small until things sort out.  Sometimes your best bet is not to bet.

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