Study Indicates Officiating Bias

October 3, 2018

Dr. Andrew Dix, Assistant Professor of Communication at Middle Tennessee State University, recently conducted a study exploring whether women's basketball teams at historically black colleges and universities are more often penalized than teams from other universities.

According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 10 years of data cited by Dix's study showed players from historically black colleges were called for personal fouls 18.91 times per game, compared to 17.15 times for players from predominantly white institutions, and every one of the HBCU institutions was penalized more often than the average for predominantly white institutions. Dix posits that as a result of bias and overrepresentation of white males, there is a “micro-level rules structure for personal fouls that is disadvantageous for female basketball teams from HBCUs.”

“Adverse calls against HBCUs relative to PWIs in women’s college basketball offers circumstantial evidence of a larger socio-cultural issue that has hamstringed HBCUs sports teams within the field of play,” Dix said in an email to Diverse. “Fostering a dialogue on referees calling more personal fouls against HBCU women’s college basketball teams relative to PWI women’s college basketball teams is a good starting point for creating awareness that will better inform sports consumers and hopefully bring about meaningfully change on the women’s college basketball court.”

Brianna Clark, a Ph.D. student in Howard University’s Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies program and assistant volleyball coach at Trinity Washington University, said Dix's findings were not surprising.

“There have always been clear and distinct inequalities against women in college athletics, especially Black women,” Clark said. “There is a lack of protection for our Black women athletes, and that disappointing reality is further proven within this study.”

Clark said team leadership and spectators must hold players accountable for their actions, and said athletes of color should feel as though they can express themselves in a healthy manner, and not believe that they have to “manage” their expressions.

Dix said he hoped NCAA officials will conduct an official investigation into why female teams receive more penalty calls.

“Stakeholder[s] that I would hope have the greatest takeaway from this study would be the athletic directors of HBCU programs and the coaches of HBCU women’s college basketball teams,” Dix said. “These empowered individuals at HBCU athletic programs should know what is occurring in the field of play and now they have hard statistical data to support it.”

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