It’s official: The facts show that referee bias is all too real

Akilah Carter-Francique

Media bias only adds insult to injury

Second of a three-part column

Do teams of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) get the respect they are due when playing predominately White institutions (PWIs)? That’s the question raised by a recent study on bias.

Middle Tennessee State Professor Andrew Dix discussed in last week’s “View” his latest referee bias study on HBCU women’s basketball teams. Since its publication last November drew some media attention, he told the MSR, “I feel this line of research is taking what [Black school officials and coaches] are talking about and putting it out there to a larger media so that people are realizing that this is going on, but there wasn’t evidence and years of statistical data to support it,” Dix said.

“I’m happy to see that people are talking about it,” Prairie View A&M Professor Akilah Carter-Francique stressed. Dix’s study is “helping to bring to light some of those issues,” including the need for diversity training for referees, she pointed out. “Their personal biases may influence officiating a game,” Carter-Francique added.

It’s worth noting that typically HBCU teams play PWIs in “guarantee games,” when Black schools agree to play away from home for a payment typically in the six figures. “The kids look forward to those games, and I do as well,” said Coppin State Women’s Basketball Coach DeWayne Burroughs last month after playing Minnesota. “We like this competition, and it does a great job preparing us for our conference.”

Along with Coppin State, Minnesota also hosted Arkansas-Pine Bluff in women’s basketball, and the Gopher men played North Carolina A&T last month. All three contests were lopsided victories for the hosts.

Although Dix didn’t take this into account in his latest study, there tends to be mainstream media bias toward HBCUs as well. “I can’t speak on what goes on in the minds of those journalists,” he said. However, only the MSR sought out post-game comments from the three visiting Black coaches in two of the three contests at the Barn.   

“I wasn’t expecting to see so many people upstairs [in the Williams Arena third-floor media room],” Burroughs said to me after speaking to a room of mostly White reporters save one. He’d been called upstairs at my request. Usually the HBCU coaches are not called up from the basement by the U of M media folks, and Burroughs was surprised it happened. “But you requested it,” he said. “Now that makes sense.”

“We have been getting a lot of that” this season, Arkansas-Pine Bluff Coach Nate Kilbert said of the media snub as he spoke outside the visitors’ locker room in the arena’s basement after his contest. “This is pretty much across the board when you play bigger schools. They (the White media) don’t want to cover us.”

“When you win, you will be covered. When you lose, you will not be covered,” NCA&T Coach Jay Joiner noted matter-of-factly.

Professor Dix’s next study, which he hopes to see published in a book this year, will be on HBCUs playing PWIs in college baseball. “I am writing a chapter [in which] I am specifically analyzing walks allowed per nine innings pitched,” Dix explained.  “I looked at 10 years of baseball data…when the pitcher on the mound represents an HBCU relative to a pitcher on the mound for a PWI. I think the baseball study is really interesting…”

It’s a good bet that Dix’s findings, when released, will show results similar to his earlier studies on women’s basketball and football: Black schools get no respect.

Next: A new study looks at how Black female athletes navigate racism and sexism to excel.