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Donaghy Resurfaces December 4, 2009

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“All problems become smaller if you don’t dodge them, but confront them.”

-William F. Halsey

Once again, the Tim Donaghy scandal is back in the news, due to two impending book deals.  First, Tim Donaghy has written a tell-all book about his experiences.  Previously, the book was shelved, with Random House getting pressure from the NBA not to release the book.  However, a new publishing company, VTi-Group out of Tampa, has stepped in and plans to release the book by this Christmas.

Another book is planned to be released, written by the man in charge of the gambling operation, Jimmy “The Sheep” Battista.  His main contention in the book is that there were 13 NBA referees in on the scandal, including a “big five” who fixed games.  According to the sources in the linked article, Battista has phone records and various notes to back up his claims.

The Tim Donaghy scandal began over two years ago when federal agents exposed him fixing NBA games for gamblers.  The fact that the issue is still haunting the NBA shows both how big a deal it is and how poorly the NBA dealt with it when it first arose.  Although the NBA conducted an internal investigation, in which they concluded that Tim Donaghy worked alone and that it was an isolated incident, they have otherwise tried to suppress any discussion of the issue.

The fact the NBA never published its investigation, though, just feeds the perception that the NBA is covering up a larger issue.  The analysis of other referees is possible, as shown by Wayne Winston in his book Mathletics.  In it, he showed how Donaghy’s games usually had a significantly higher number of fouls called, which would create higher scoring games, affecting over/under lines for gamblers.  As Winston states at the end of his chapter on the issue, his data looks only at refereeing groups, whereas the NBA has data on individual referees, and should be able to easily show whether referees had statistically different results in the games they officiated.

Whether the NBA or Donaghy and Battista are correct is beyond the issue at this point.  The NBA has an image problem that it is a rigged league, and its actions since the Donaghy scandal have only fed into that perception.  By not publishing its findings, pressuring publishers to not release Donaghy’s book, and generally trying to sweep the whole episode under the rug, the NBA acts like it is hiding something.  If the NBA confronted the issue at the onset, it could have dealt with it and moved on.  Instead, by allowing the problem to fester, the NBA will not only have to deal with Donaghy, but possible fan backlash in the future.

Next week, in the same line as gambling, I will look at the chances of an NBA franchise ever going to Las Vegas, a topic discussed as teams may be eyeing relocation.

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