“We lost because of that call.” In the thick of the 2014 NBA playoffs’ second round series between the LA Clippers and the OKC Thunder, everyone from Clippers fans to the head coach, Doc Rivers, himself repeated that sentence.
Even the casual sports observer can resonate with that concept. How many times has a controversial penalty or non-call within the last few minutes of a game left choruses of infuriated fans in disgust because they felt that the decision single-handedly swung the game? It doesn’t matter how the team was playing the rest of the match; all that matters is that they had a chance but the swindling referees cost them the assured victory. It was a coin flip coming down to the wire, but then the coin surely got rigged somewhere along the way.
Let’s step back and realize that coin flips are inherently 50-50. Got that? Good, then you understand that for coin flips that go one way, just as many coin flips can go the opposite direction. The impact of one controversial decision late in a game could easily be avoided by the negatively affected team not having missed a point-blank layup earlier (basketball), or if the team had just converted that one 3rd down pass in the second quarter (football). So what’s the problem?