It’s too bad that officiating isn’t subject to the same intense statistical scrutiny that the rest of the game is, because to my knowledge we just don’t even have many models to judge these questions, especially on a game-to-game basis. Such a crucial, human, often instantaneous operation, repeated 100s of times throughout a game, is undoubtedly subject to flaws, biases, and mistakes, like everything else we do. Leagues and institutions have an investment in maintaining an aura of competence for officials, because they want to maintain the credibility of their games. I think we have some superficial evidence that officials are affected by home crowds, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some officials work to counter that in their whistle-blowing. A certain percentage are better at their jobs, some worse. I doubt many perceive themselves as biased or work to affect outcomes, but likely some do. Some studies have found racial bias in sports, in the NBA and baseball, and that wouldn’t surprise too many people, though I’d be super-skeptical about how you established such an animal or controlled for it, in its great complexity, in a study,
Some people argue that we should worry less about officiating, not more, because if refs called every actual infraction games would grind to a halt. We see some evidence that this could be the case already, with the introduction of additional reviews; they can make the end of games absolute hell. But I’d be for just learning how to think about it like everything else–some people think the over-emphasis on statistics, period, ruins the fun but it’s a path that–once embarked on. . . More scrutiny could reduce paranoia–certainly that seems to happen sometimes when people go looking for bias and find little of it, or see that what statistical evidence there is mostly random/noise.
That said, I’d agree that some teams absolutely do get a reputation for clean play; Michigan is in fact an absolute leader in this regard! But that doesn’t mean bad calls in a game–the failure to call fouls–can’t hurt a team. (I’ve long believed that with really close games it’s probably pretty difficult to establish that the winner was much more deserving of the outcome than the loser, although when the winner dominated statistically that makes us feel better about it.) And while I’d have to watch again, there looked to be upwards of four calls early that left Michigan in a hole that did seem to set the tenor of the game yesterday.
It’s also worth noting that all this arbitrary stuff is what makes games games, part of the drama and even the fun; we enjoy grousing and debating the merits. Like most Michigan fans, however, I’m just looking for how Michigan is affected as I watch; if I tried to watch through Wisconsin’s eyes who knows what I would see!