An attorney hired by the NBA to review its officiating program in the wake of a referee gambling scandal said Thursday that he found no evidence of wrongdoing by any official other than Tim Donaghy, but he recommended a tightening of the league’s gambling policies and the creation of a new “integrity hot line.”
The 116-page report by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz comes as Donaghy is serving a 15-month prison sentence relating to bets he placed on games he officiated during the 2006-07 season. Pedowitz’s report affirmed the contention of NBA commissioner David Stern that Donaghy acted as a lone, rogue referee. Pedowitz also said he found no evidence that any of Donaghy’s calls affected the outcome of any games.
In reviewing the NBA’s officiating standards and its policies toward gambling, Pedowitz issued several recommendations, which Stern said the league plans to implement in their entirety.
Among the key recommendations:
• The public release of referee assignments.
• Enhancement of gambling education programs.
• The hiring of a league compliance officer.
• A hot line to allow for league employees to anonymously raise questions and report problems relating to gambling and other issues of integrity.
The report comes after a 14-month investigation in which Pedowitz and his staff conducted more than 200 interviews and had unfettered access to the league’s data and video library. The report was completed earlier this year but not released until Donaghy’s federal case was completed. In the interim, the NBA moved to enact some of the recommendations, including the hiring of Ronald L. Johnson, a retired Army major general, as the league’s senior vice president of referee operations. The league has also hired a new executive to analyze betting patterns in an effort to detect possible referee bias.
Stern did acknowledge a “continuing balancing act” in preventing the type of illegal gambling performed by Donaghy while permitting legal and casual gambling, such as visits to casinos and friendly card games on team planes. Pedowitz recommended that the league clarify its rules to allow casino betting only during the offseason, though he also said the league must strengthen its gambling education program to stress that betting large amounts of money “can ruin your life.”
In determining that Donaghy acted alone, Pedowitz essentially cleared another NBA referee, Scott Foster. Media reports had suggested Foster was involved in gambling with Donaghy because cell phone records showed a number of short calls between the two men between October 2006 and April 2007. Pedowitz’s report offered innocent explanations for those calls and said there was no evidence that Foster conspired with Donaghy.
Pedowitz said he would have liked to have interviewed Donaghy in order to get a better understanding of the referee’s behavior and its impact on the outcome of games.
“I also would have wanted to talk with him about his position that he didn’t manipulate games,” Pedowitz said. “I would have wanted to understand a little bit better exactly what he was doing and how he was doing it. Again, that would have permitted us to make a better judgment as to whether or not we believed him or not.”
Moving forward, Stern said he was hopeful that players and coaches would refrain from the practice of criticizing and baiting referees, which he acknowledged has led to a perception that officials could be swayed into making certain calls.
“I think our players, our coaches and our referees understand that it’s time for this family to come together and to focus on the game and to remove what may even be good faith gamesmanship and whining and demonstrating, but which could have an impact that was the unintended consequence of that,” Stern said. “So I expect, rather than me having less tolerance, I would rather like to think there’s going to be a reawakening of our family with respect to the impact that such things have on the reputation of our game.”