The Napoleon Complex is real and can be seen in the volume of foul calls during NBA games, according to the findings published in a new study in the Journal of Sports Economics.
Paul Gift and Ryan Rodenberg reviewed 4,463 regular-season games from 2008 to 2012 and controlled for factors like player height, experience, officiating experience and more. They found that there's a statistically significant relationship between the average height of the three-man officiating crew and the number of fouls called per game.
According to their report, here are the average number of personal fouls called per 48 minutes, based on the average height of the officiating crews:
- Less than 6 feet: 4.13
- Between 6-0 and 6-3: 4.09
- Above 6-3: 4.03
"Such biases are probably not large enough to impact game outcomes but could affect gambling markets," wrote Gift and Rodenberg.
The researchers found that the average height of the players did not correlate with the number of fouls called.
Gift and Rodenberg suggest that their data provides support for the Napoleon Complex, which theorizes that shorter men overcompensate for their stature with aggressive or domineering behavior.
"Our findings support the conclusion that relatively shorter NBA referees officiate basketball games differently than their taller peers," they write. "The analysis spotlights an oft-suggested but rarely studied bias in a workplace where employees are heavily scrutinized and monitored."
This is not the first time research involving NBA referees has produced provocative results. In 2007 the New York Times published the results of a study which claimed white referees called more fouls against black players while black referees called more fouls against white players. The study, conducted done by then-University of Pennsylvania assistant professor Justin Wolfers and Cornell graduate student Joseph Price over the span of 13 seasons, found that the racial makeup of the crew affected calls by up to 4.5 percent.
The NBA vehemently denied the results of Wolfers' and Price's research.
"The study that is cited in the New York Times article is wrong," Joel Litvin, then the NBA's president of league and basketball operations, told the Associated Press at the time. "The fact is there is no evidence of racial bias in foul calls made by NBA officials and that is based on a study conducted by our experts who looked at data that was far more robust and current than the data relied upon by Professor Wolfers."
(H/T to Deadspin)