Are NFL Referees Biased?


There has been plenty of anger in Philly over the last few weeks of missed late hit calls against Michael Vick. It doesn't seem to many fans, or to Andy Reid, that the referees are applying the rules fairly and equally to all quarterbacks in the NFL.

Yet should we really be expecting that much objectivity? Are the referee crews uniform with the rest of their calls? Last week we saw that some crews are much stricter in enforcing the rules than others. This week, we'll take a crack at how even they are adjudicating penalties between home and away teams:

Penalties Called by Referees Per Game by Home or Away 2010

The data shown in the graph above depicts the average penalties called per game against away teams versus home teams. Those referees who call more fouls against the away team have positive bars, and thoe who call more against home teams have negative bars.

Once that becomes clear, it's easy to see which referees have bias for or against the home team. For example, our good friend and "strictest NFL ref" Ed Hochuli is also the umpire with the second-most against home teams. He calls, on average, 1.67 penalties more against the home team than the visiting. The crew led by Walt Anderson is even worse.

Meanwhile, referees like Gene Steratore, Terry McAuley, and Pete Morelli have the opposite bias: against the visiting team by over 1.5 calls a game. if the Eagles had two home games, the first refereed by Anderson's crew and the second by Steratore's, there would be a swing of almost four penalties, enough to halt a drive, call back a long run, or miss a blatant late hit.

Think that doesn't affect the game?

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