Previously I considered findings relating to simulation in association football after a weekend of contentious calls in the Premier League. The evidence suggested that referees are well qualified to judge whether a footballer attempts at simulate a foul. But what about deception in other sports? A recent paper published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization available here considers the topic of simulation in basketball using data from the Israeli Basketball Super League.
The researchers look at over 500 incidents and follow the classic approach of behavioural economists; they tested to see whether decision making by players and referees relating to simulation was optimal and, if not, they ask why this was not the case and how systematic was this deviation from optimality.
The data collected suggests that deception in professional basketball is quite common and players often fall in an attempt to receive an offensive foul. It is argued however that what is believed to be a common strategy of deceiving to achieve obvious gains can actually have a negative outcome for the team. They researchers suggest that falling players do not realise the cost they are imposing on their team if a foul is not awarded. The idea is also floated that players and team’s incentives structure could be potentially misaligned (i.e. the player having specific bonuses). The authors go on to cite some of the most recent research in the area of honesty and cheating which suggests that individuals have a tendency to cheat for small personal gains but do not engage in large-scale dishonest behaviours.
The research asks an interesting question, which is especially pertinent in light of the findings; why doesn't the team or the coach instruct his players to stop simulating fouls if there are high costs imposed on the team? Perhaps the 32 managers on their way to Brazil should turn to the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization to get the edge!