Rampant Speculation About Donaghygate

Everyone, this author included, has theories on the precise details of how rebel NBA ref Tim Donaghy may have affected the outcome of games in which he officiated. Theories by definition are conjecture.  They need only be plausible using the known facts. Even reasonable suppositions may not prove to be 100 percent correct.

There are many rational hypotheses on the scandal and then again, there is other guesswork that can easily have holes poked through it. There are a small number of postulators who, to their credit, have been able to gravy train this scandal into purporting themselves as gambling experts. Unfortunately, to the more seasoned and authentic authorities in sports gambling, too often the notions of the squeakier wheels may get the oil even if the views rarely hold water.

At the very least the more seasoned are much less apt to scream proof in the crowded theatre of nattering nabobs.  The USA Today’s Danny Sheridan correctly observes, “You can make all kind of cases with numbers. But if you have the exact games, then it’s like black and white.”

As an example, an “expert” often quoted on ESPN.com asserts that 13 games last year in which Donaghy officiated were within one-point of the spread.  Does ESPN use a fact checker?  According the game log as published on that same ESPN.com, the number is actually 11, not 13. But fudging the number by more than 18 percent makes a much sexier story.

Thanks for proving the oddsmakers are adept, damn savvy in fact.  Any two bit gambler was aware of this bombshell.  To embellish on a line from the Simpson’s, it seems to me a rather obvious find from a rather mediocre genius.   This discovery was classic dog bites man though some gullible media saps bought it hook, line and sinker as man bites dog.

If even a higher percentage of games were going down to the pointspread wire with Donaghy, this would be evidence that he likely did not, repeat not affect the outcome.  How anyone could imply the opposite is beyond me.

However, if a forensic statistician found that Donaghy had the highest percentage of games that were not even close to the pointspread, that would be a potential straw in the wind unlike the polar opposite (non) finding.

But wait, the “betting expert” has all his bases covered.  He found that in games Donaghy officiated in 2007, the average number of points was 13 point higher than the average posted total.

So the “smoking gun” is too many games were too close to the pointspread, but then again, the other smoking gun is that too many over/unders were not close to the pointspread. The ghost of Joe McCarthy lives and the legacy of Mike Nifong thrive.

The so-called gambling experts seem to be missing the point, though cynics will tell you the only point is that the worst publicity is no publicity for wannabes. After all, no purported conclusive evidence means no real story and no media exposure.

Granted, we still do not know every detail, and perhaps never will regarding the Tim Donaghy scandal. However, from what we have seen so far, it appears point shaving was likely not as commonplace and may not even be part of the criminal allegations against him.

We do know for a fact that he supplied “inside information”. As a gambler who handicaps games legitimately,  I can assure you that we are always, always looking for an “edge”—any and all major advantages—over the long-run.  Getting “inside information” does not mean we bet the mortgage on a particular sporting event, but it can increase our long-term winning percentage.

Examples are the injury status of a key player.  Shaquille O’Neal, Dwayne Wade and Pau Gasol are instances of star players whose game time status was often uncertain to the gambler.  However, Donaghy would have access to unpublished injury information, the type of privy data that would give a gambler a huge upper hand.

As another example, perhaps a team was playing five contests in seven nights and their flight into town was delayed four hours, they got to town at 11:00 A.M. on game day.  Knowing when situations like this occur would also provide bettors with a huge edge.

Simply “if”, any player, coach or ref were involved in point shaving, it is highly doubtful if his chicanery would result in the final scores being disproportionately close to the spread.  It would be quite the opposite.

So of the two bodies of evidence thrown against the wall by the err “betting expert,” one that says too many games were close to the number and the other that says too many games were not close to the number, the latter is much more likely to stick.

My educated estimation, based on what I heard so far, is that Donaghy supplied the gamblers version of “insider trading” as illustrated above.  Game day unpublished information would be the holy grail for sharp players, and it appears that is exactly what Donaghy supplied.

When the specific contests that Donaghy bet on comes out, of course an inordinate percentage will be in matches he officiated.  The Johnny-come-lately experts will scream there is the damning evidence they knew was coming.

Not so fast.  Of course Donaghy is going to have access to inside information on a game when he’s already on site.  How can he do undercover work on a matchup that is 400 miles from his own two eyes and ears?

While even those of us who refuse to jump to rash conclusions will appropriately muse, “How could he possibly be objective in a game in which he has five dimes riding?” this is far from proof that he consciously influenced the outcome.

Don’t get me wrong, Donaghy is clearly guilty of going well over the line of any and all codes of conduct, but I am quite confident those hell bent in proving a made-for-television conspiracy will only continue to make  leaps of faith that may not be backed by the evidence.  A scenario in which he acquired inside information on games other those he was to officiate would be a shocking turn of events to the true “betting experts”.

Reasonable speculation is human nature.  Salacious gossip backed merely by fuzzy math is irresponsible. ESPN.com proves to be the worldwide leader in tittle-tattle.

Joe Duffy is CEO of OffshoreInsiders.com He has written hundreds of articles on sports gaming, published on many of the top websites and in leading publications around the world and has been an expert guest on several national radio shows including Sporting News Network.

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