Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Latest Donaghy allegation: FBI believed US Attorney's Office did "favors for the NBA"

Finally, something (ostensibly) newsworthy from former NBA referee Tim Donaghy's book tour.  Following a discussion of his allegations against other referees throughout his book, Donaghy (p.206) turns to why he believes these officials were never prosecuted:
"As a former federal prosecutor, (NBA-hired investigator) Larry Pedowitz had sway, the kind of juice that provides unique access to people who make decisions about things like whether or not to pursue a prosecution.  The FBI...wouldn't play the game.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Attorney had the final say.  Further prosecutions would be a 'no-go.'"
Donaghy later adds, "Maybe political strings were being pulled to make sure I was cemented in the public's mind as the 'lone assassin.'"  We can infer what Donaghy is saying above, namely that the FBI was apparently interested in pursuing cases against other NBA referees but lost the battle with the U.S. Attorney's Office, which declined to prosecute these individuals because they had been dissuaded from doing do by a former federal prosecutor hired by the NBA.

In a recent interview on The Chris Vernon Show (Memphis, 730 Fox Sports) posted online on January 4, 2010, Donaghy went considerably further than offering his personal opinion by explicitly stating,
"There was a lot of conflict with this whole investigation between the prosecutor and the FBI because (the FBI) felt that the prosecution was doing favors for the NBA."1
If it is true "the FBI" (i.e., not just Donaghy and not merely a current or former FBI agent) believed the U.S. Attorney's Office "was doing favors for the NBA" (against the wishes of the Bureau, no less), that would certainly be news.  It would also suggest that cooperating witness Donaghy was somehow privy to confidential aspects of a federal investigation, even as it was unfolding.  Of course, given Donaghy's problematic record of, to be polite, "misstatements" to date, all of this being true is a big "if".2

1. At 7:25 of part 2 of the interview.

2. In advance of much more from me on numerous Donaghy assertions, see, for example, my earlier comments here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Some suggested research for the NBA

As a quick follow-up to my earlier post re: the Pedowitz Report, here are three things the NBA could entertain if they wanted substantive evidence of whether former referee Tim Donaghy altered game outcomes to advance his betting propositions.

1. My first suggestion, ironically, was inspired by the NBA's own inquiry into the betting scandal.  In the Pedowitz Report (pp.113-14, under "VII. Recommendations; 4. Gambling Enforcement, Detection and Deterrence; c) Gambling Monitors; and d) Statistical Screening for Gambling and Bias"), the following is respectively discussed (emphasis added):
The League has now arranged to obtain information on a regular basis from individuals and entities involved in the gambling business who can provide the League with information about unusual movements in the betting lines, rumors about things such as injury reports or referee schedules or where the “smart money” is being wagered. By flagging games or individuals for the League to investigate, these monitors may help the League detect gambling or misuse of confidential information....
Since the 2003-2004 season, the League has been collecting data on calls and non-calls for each referee. The collection system was designed by Sibson as part of the overall effort to redesign the officiating performance program. The system itself was built by the League. Although this system was developed for training and instructional purposes, we have worked with the League and Sibson to develop a prototype, proprietary system for screening games in an effort to help detect data patterns that may suggest misconduct by referees and others. Data ― including this foul call information and the movements of betting lines ― can be analyzed using various algorithms to flag patterns consistent with questionable behavior. While this system is in development, the League has already started to actively monitor several high level data-points (such as line movements) for every game for signs of potential misconduct, and certain game and betting information is distributed to League management on a daily basis. For those games that are flagged, the League has undertaken further review. In addition, the League hired Steven Angel, a former consultant with Sibson, as Senior Vice President for League Operations and Officiating to, among other things, help coordinate wagering intelligence and game screening...
This collection of gambling and referee behavior data seems prudent, as do the related assessments.  Why, though, restrict such analysis to current and future activity?  If the referee/call data has been collected since the 2003-04 season (which, interestingly, is when former referee Tim Donaghy claims he first bet on NBA games), why not perform these analyses on Donaghy's games (and others) beginning with the '03-'04 season?

An interesting footnote related to this suggestion: According to Ken White, CEO and lead oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the world's largest oddsmaking company, he researched betting trends involving Tim Donaghy and submitted his report to the NBA in the fall of 2007.  Of this situation, White told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "They never called back to discuss it or anything."

2. I have written previously about Indiana University Business Professor Wayne L. Winston's commentary on whether Tim Donaghy fixed games.  Additionally, in his book, Mathletics, he suggests (p.247) we should:
compare the percentage of fouls Tim Donaghy called in games where the Total Line increased by at least two points to the percentage of fouls he called in all other games.*
I would add this analysis should be conducted dating back at least to the 2003-04 season.  Serious NBA scandal observers are likely noting to themselves that Donaghy claims to have never bet on totals ("over" or "under" total points in a game), and thus may be discounting Dr. Winston's suggestion.  I think Winston's proposed analysis would, in fact, be telling, for reasons I will explain in due time.

*A move of two points or more in the Total Line is generally considered a big, or unusual, move.

3. The third thing the league could do is either the most simple or the most difficult: identify and locate big-time, heavy-hitting professional gamblers, and then interview them about the NBA betting scandal.  Some of these individuals have done their own - remarkably sophisticated - assessments, and there may be considerable wisdom to gain from speaking with them.

Interesting quote (among others) from Donaghy's book

In Personal Foul, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy argues that the subjectivity of calls is a significant problem with the league's officiating.  He then states (p.238) that an additional issue concerns "the friendships and hatreds between the referees and the players, coaches, and owners."  In this regard, Donaghy adds:
Because (NBA) referees are able to make calls or ignore violations with impunity, they can hide a whole lot of love or hate for players or a team with their calls.
Couldn't this logic be used to illustrate why it would have been possible, indeed easy (assuming he is correct), for Tim Donaghy to fix games?  That is, let's take Donaghy at his word, and simply apply Donaghy's arguments to his particular situation vis-a-vis the possible altering of game outcomes in advance of his betting propositions:
Because Tim Donaghy was able to make calls or ignore violations with impunity, he could - depending on which side he bet that evening - hide a whole lot of 'love' or 'hate' for players or a team with his calls.
Reasonable, no?

A quick general comment on Donaghy's book

I could write at length about former referee Tim Donaghy's myriad claims (those made explicitly in his book and those offered during his related media appearances) on a host of topics, and may return to this possibility later.  However, let me say this generally about his book, having read it too many times.  It is remarkable (perhaps "troubling" is more apt) how often he pretends to know the opinions, beliefs, or motives of other parties, ranging from prison officials to NBA officials to federal law enforcement officials to co-conspirators and their respective defense attorneys and so on.  He has no basis beyond supposition for so much of what he writes, and there are common threads to most of his assumptions: he inflates his importance or significance; and he ascribes ill motives and/or conspiracy theories to the parties being discussed.  Concerning the latter theme, it is almost never the case that the more simplistic, less sinister possible explanation is accepted much less promoted.