Friday, May 23, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
No one knows whether the vague allegations made by disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy regarding secret information supposedly passed between refs and coaches will turn out to be accurate or unfounded.
The attorney for Donaghy said this week that his client, who has admitted to betting on games he officiated, gave investigators information on mysterious circumstances that “prevented games from being played on a level playing field.”
The revelation in a sentencing memorandum filed in Brooklyn, N.Y., federal court, follows Friday’s news — also contained in federal court documents — that Donaghy bet on “about 14 games” he officiated during the 2006-07 season.
Although any details of Donaghy’s allegations of some sort of conspiracy remain unknown, research by Las Vegas sports betting analyst R.J. Bell supports the contention that Donaghy was exerting influence on games he officiated rather than just passing along information to criminal associates.
“It struck me at every level in this process that the NBA has admitted only to what is most readily obvious,” said Bell, proprietor of the betting Web site Pregame.com. “If they admitted to anything less it would be absurd.”
Bell has been following the Donaghy saga, particularly from the perspective of analyzing point spreads in games he refereed, since it began last year. Donaghy, who resigned after working 13 seasons, faces up to 25 years in prison and up to a $500,000 fine at a July 14 sentencing. He could receive a much lighter sentence in exchange for cooperating with investigators.
In the first 15 games officiated by Donaghy during the 2006-07 season that had significant moves in the point spread, according to Bell’s research, the bettors moving the line won every time. For the purpose of this study, Bell defined a significant move as an adjustment in the point spread — typically driven by one-sided betting action — of at least 1 1/2 points.
The odds of the line move “covering” the spread for bettors randomly 15 times in a row are greater than 32,000-1, said Bell, who estimates a line move typically covers no more than 53 percent of the time based on the opening number.
“Here’s a referee, when he’s in a game and there’s a disproportionate amount of money bet on one team, the big money wins 15 out of 15 times,” Bell said. “We know 15 of 15 doesn’t happen randomly very often, maybe once a century or so.”
The 15 games that had a line move of at least 1 1/2 points and involved Donaghy encompassed nearly the entire season. The first occurred on Oct. 31, 2006, and the last on April 7, 2007, Bell said.
The betting line moves and results on the “totals,” or over/unders, of games Donaghy officiated are equally telling.
According to Bell’s research, six games Donaghy refereed in 2006-07 had big line moves — defined as an adjustment from the opener of at least 3 1/2 points — in the total, or over/under. In all six games, bettors on the side of the line move won.
That result goes hand-in-hand with Bell’s convincing argument that Donaghy’s officiating style changed notably during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. During the two previous seasons (2003-04 and 2004-05), Donaghy called fewer fouls than the average NBA ref and his games exceeded the posted over/under only 44 percent of the time. During his last two seasons, he called more fouls than the average and the totals in his games went “over” the number 57 percent of the time.
“The idea that he could have been impartial in the games he had money on, that’s an absurd concept,” Bell said. “It’s not believable. And the whole point is, it appears Donaghy fixed NBA games.”