CBS Sixty Minutes: Insider Trading in Sports
Last week, I blasted CBS’s show 60 Minutes. This week I’ve come to praise it. 60 Minutes’s long segment was with referee Tim Donaghy. I thought it would be a standard story about a guy betting on one side and then using his powers as a referee to fix the game. But about three or four minutes into it, I said to my wife, “This isn’t about fixing games; it’s about insider trading.”
Here’s why I found it at least “surface plausible” that he didn’t fix the games: the video showing him kicking out the San Antonio Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich, only a few minutes into the game, when Donaghy had bet on the Spurs! He lost the bet.
So how did he win 70 to 80 percent of the time? By knowing which other refs had special relationships with, or grudges against, various players, coaches, or owners.
The next night (last night), I was watching our Golden State Warriors lose yet again. There was some call or other in which one of the announcers said, “He’s a rookie: he’ll never get that call.” If you watch the NBA much, how many times do you hear that line? Try “every night.” So what they’re really saying is that refs do go beyond the rules a lot, depending on the situation of the players rather than on what the players are doing. So if there is a ref who is more pro-Kobe than the average and you–Donaghy–find out an hour before the game, you can bet appropriately.
I got a kick out of the interview with Mike Mathis in which Mathis admitted that referees sometimes let their personal feelings affect their refereeing and then said that Donaghy had washed his, Mathis’s career, down the toilet. So for Mathis, apparently, the problem was not that referees did a bad job because of their personal biases but that one of them was able to win bets by predicting which ones would do a bad job.