2016 NBA Playoffs: Most Profitable Referees

Almost a decade ago, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to betting on games in which he officiated. According to reports, Donaghy had been betting on games for two seasons and had ties to organized crime. Although former commissioner David Stern insisted that Donaghy was a “rogue official,” this scandal certainly impacted the public’s opinion of the league.

There were several changes made following Donaghy’s arrest including the announcement of the three-man official crew being moved from 90 minutes before tip-off to 9:00 AM eastern on game day. This was intended to reduce the value of the information to gamblers, but there have clearly been certain referees who provide an additional edge for bettors.

Several weeks ago we introduced a new officials page which tracks the record for NBA referees and MLB umpires. Historically home teams have covered the spread at a 49.1% rate and, as a result, the most profitable refs have favored road teams. Unfortunately, some of those trends have varied drastically between the regular season and playoffs.

For example, road teams have gone 308-241 ATS (56.1%) with +54.06 units won in regular season games officiated by Scott Foster. However, when Foster has officiated postseason games, visitors have gone just 35-35 ATS (50%) with -1.67 units lost. This trend can partially be explained by the changes to the sports betting marketplace when transitioning from regular season to playoffs.

During the regular season there has been historical value betting underdogs and visitors, but that trend completely changes during the postseason. Our research shows that in regular season games, road teams have covered 51% of the time and underdogs have covered 50.1% of the time. During the playoffs those numbers drop to 48.9% and 48.7%, respectively.

In the playoffs, the number of bets placed on every game increases dramatically with much of the action from recreational bettors who place wagers based on instinct rather than data and analysis. During the regular season these bettors are prone to overwhelmingly taking favorites and home teams, but they are far more likely to take road teams and underdogs during the playoffs. Oddsmakers can accurately anticipate the behavior of public bettors and will typically shade their opening lines accordingly.

This shifting tide means that many referees who are profitable during the regular season aren’t necessarily profitable during the postseason. For that reason, we wanted to analyze the most profitable postseason refs for the spread and total and determine whether those edges also existed in their regular season games.

The tables below display the five most profitable umpires for home teams, road teams, overs and unders since the start of the 2005 season.

Best Home Refs

Official Postseason Record Units Won Regular Season Record Units Won
Ed Malloy 35-20 +13.02 284-268 +1.82
Tony Brown 10-1 +8.60 249-275 -40.36
Derrick Collins 9-3 +5.57 262-281 -33.02
Dick Bavetta 5-0 +4.73 188-198 -19.17
Ken Mauer 34-28 +4.40 256-267 -23.90

Best Visitor Refs

Official Postseason Record Units Won Regular Season Record Units Won
Zach Zarba 26-14 +10.95 284-266 +5.12
Joe Crawford 37-30 +5.73 247-215 +21.77
BIll Spooner 22-16 +4.90 247-219 +16.55
Mike Callahan 34-28 +4.76 265-248 +5.00
Bennie Adams 8-3 +4.50 257-242 +4.94

Best Under Refs

Official Postseason Record Units Won Regular Season Record Units Won
Marc Davis 34-19 +12.91 302-254 +34.69
Dan Crawford 37-26 +8.76 297-257 +26.75
Dick Bavetta 5-0 +4.80 206-183 +13.54
Jason Phillips 29-23 +4.34 282-261 +7.68
Tony Brothers 29-23 +4.22 263-273 -20.89

Best Over Refs

Official Postseason Record Units Won Regular Season Record Units Won
Derrick Stafford 33-22 +10.09 238-257 -31.65
Joe Crawford 38-28 +8.77 234-230 -5.91
James Capers 27-18 +8.06 248-247 -10.30
Zach Zarba 25-16 +7.92 289-286 +8.02
Scott Foster 38-31 +5.88 300-259 +26.41

It’s interesting to note that the five most profitable home refs during the playoffs have performed extremely poorly during the regular season. On the flip side, the top five road refs during the playoffs have been similarly profitable during the regular season.

If you’re planning on betting the total, you should definitely be familiar with Marc Davis. The veteran official is the most profitable under referee in our database with +34.69 units won during the regular season and +12.91 units won during the playoffs. This is also interesting because Davis was voted as the league’s third-worst ref in an anonymous survey.

Since the officials for each game are comprised of three-man teams, it’s obviously preferable to have multiple referees with the same bias. We would also recommend narrowing focus onto the officials who have been profitable during both the regular season and postseason.

Bettors can track the latest odds, betting percentages, injuries and more by visiting our free NBA odds page. Interested in receiving our highly profitable Best Bet picks? Sign up for Sportsbook Insider today!

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David Solar

David Solar has been the Content Manager at Sports Insights for over four years. He specializes in sports betting analytics and has created several popular data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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