Middle Tennessee State Communication Studies Professor Andrew Dix published a study last fall that examined 10 years of data (2008-17). It showed that HBCU women’s basketball teams are called for more fouls than predominately White institutions (PWIs). He also noted that an average of 1.5 times more fouls were called on 23 HBCUs than were called on 310 predominately White teams.
HBCU women’s basketball teams also make up eight of the top 15 most penalized Division I teams over a 10-year span, holding the top five spots, the study pointed out.
“Referee bias is a real phenomenon that occurs in sport,” Dix said in an MSR phone interview. “If you watch games closely, you can see that happening. There are a number of different reasons why this phenomenon is occurring.”
“It’s legit,” Arkansas-Pine Bluff Women’s Basketball Coach Nate Kilbert confirmed after his team’s defeat at Minnesota November 20. APB was called for 22 fouls as opposed to 14 on the hosts. They were called for more fouls in two of their three non-conference contests.
“I spoke to one official about a call, and his answer to me was, ‘I am not going to give you a dissertation on my call,’” Coppin State Coach DeWayne Burroughs reported after his December 12 loss at Minnesota. He told the MSR the official added, “‘That was your warning.’ I knew where we were from that point.”
Twice out of eight non-conference games this season, Coppin State was called for more fouls. The coach stressed, “I think the kids sometimes think they are being mistreated [by officials]. They feel like the officials are giving the other team, [especially] a White school, an unfair advantage. I tell my kids I don’t expect any [favorable] calls when I come in here. They have to play through it.”
Dix said, “HBCUs have been subjected to referee bias in multiple sports across both genders.” He said a former HBCU coach emailed him after his study was released and told him this was something he had experienced for years and years.
The professor said that he couldn’t comment further on this mainly because he hadn’t studied it thoroughly, but this columnist over the years has seen first-hand referee bias at the high school level, especially when a city school plays a suburban one.
“Anytime emotions come into a game like basketball where it is physical in the paint, sometimes referees don’t do a good job of managing the game,” Dix pointed out. “There might be some element of referees who call [games] differently based on the reaction of the African American player questioning how a foul was called, or an HBCU coach questioning a foul call as opposed to a PWI coach or player. I think there’s a little bit of cultural bias on how people respond to these fouls.”
This is Dix’s second HBCU study in three years. He also looked at 10 college football seasons (2006-15) and learned that HBCUs got penalized more than their White Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponents.
“Refereeing is a tough job, and it is tough to remove all their biases within the field of play,” Dix said. “On a subconscious level, I think it is fair that there are some referees [that] see these HBCU teams come into town and have a certain kind of idea what to expect of them. There is some element of unconscious bias operating.”
Next week: Prof. Dix continues discussing his HBCU study.