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Are Refs Honest?

While we all wait to see if there will be an NFL season this year, we reflect on the fact that "home court advantage" has been proven to be true in every sport. Is this because the cheering fans make the home team more likely to win or is it because the refs are prejudiced--maybe without even realizing it?

Fan enthusiasm has been discounted: In basketball, free-throw percentages are the same at home and away. In baseball, a pitcher’s strike-to-ball ratio is the same at home and away. And it's not the travel tiredness: Teams from the same metro area (such as the Yankees and the Mets) lose at the same rate as teams from across the country when playing in their rival’s stadium.

So the only thing left is the referees. While there may be a few bad apples, most refs pride themselves on being scrupulously honest and fair--but what if they're being influenced unconsciously? In the March 18th edition of the New York Times, David Brooks explains what's probably going on: Since it's been noted that the larger, louder and closer a crowd is, the more refs favor the home team, he assumes that they don't like to get booed, so they may call fewer fouls on home teams.

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