Study: Napoleon Complex is Real; Short NBA Refs Call More Fouls Than Tall Refs

First off, a massive thank you to professors Paul Gift of Pepperdine University and Ryan M. Rodenberg from Florida State University.  Their new study confirms what most NBA fans and players assumed all along: that little tiny referees like to call fouls on big tall guys for the sheer sport of it.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen…the study Height Bias Among National Basketball Association Referees, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Sports Economics and reported by Crave sports site NESN, confirms the notion that the Napoleon Complex is alive, well and thriving in the NBA.  

The study reviewed nearly 4,500 NBA regular-season games between 2008 and 2012. They found that while foul calls are not affected by the relative heights of the players involved, they’re most definitely affected by the relative heights of the officials involved.

After clustering active NBA refs into three groups — under 6-footers; those 6 feet to 6 feet, 3 inches; and those over 6’3″ — the shortest group called 4.13 fouls per 48-minute game.  That’s a marked difference from the middle group, which called 4.09 fouls per game; and the tallest refs, who blew their whistle only 4.03 times per game.

While that may sound inconsequential at first, it averages out to eight more personal fouls per player per season when Lilliputian refs are calling the shots rather than their more vertically-gifted counterparts.  Again, that may not seem like much, but when an NBA game can turn so severely when a LeBron James or a Kevin Durant gets into foul trouble, the potential implications are pretty clear.

The study’s authors won’t go that far, only conceding that referee height bias “are probably not large enough to impact game outcomes,” but may “affect gambling markets.”

Their ultimate takeaway?

“Relatively shorter NBA referees officiate basketball games differently than their taller peers.”

And because we know all you haters are asking the same question right now: Joey Crawford (pictured above with an extremely hunched-over James Harden) is an estimated 5 feet, 8 inches tall. 

Feel free to draw your own conclusions.


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