This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand.

The NBA season opens today and one long-time referee will not be part of it. Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to betting on league games last season. He'll be sentenced next month. He faces up to 25 years in prison and more than half a million dollars in fines. That has caused a problem for writer Katie Davis, who coached a boys basketball team in Washington, D.C.

Ms. KATIE DAVIS (Writer): I do not want to hear the big I-told-you-so. The guys on my neighborhood team used to say all the time that the referees cheated. And I argued hard with them.

The first time I heard it, we just lost the game in a dingy church gym - 105 to 70. The guys slouched off the court muttering, and nothing I said helped. I tried: let's learn from this loss. I got glares. Outside on the sidewalk, they huddled around me. We lost because the referees cheated.

Now, this was the kind of conversation I waited for - a chance to talk to the guys about sportsmanship and losing gracefully, a life lesson. No excuses, I said. You cannot blame others for your failure. You have to look at yourselves. No, the guys said. The referee helped the other team win.

Now, I kept an audio diary that season. So here, listen to Wiley(ph) and Clayton(ph) right after that game.

WILEY: He wasn't calling, none. I mean, he was calling everything on us but not for us, and all the other team doing was just collecting their points off of that. He was just straight cheating. Like we were getting foul. I know I got punished in that game.

Ms. DAVIS: Do you really think a referee would cheat?

RILEY: Yeah, if they pay them. Because that's what happened in our football season when we're down in Francis(ph). They pay the referees to cheat in us; that's why we ain't never win no games.

Ms. DAVIS: To my mind, the refs are professional and they're paid and they're careful...

RILEY: Not necessarily.

Ms. DAVIS: So what do you think?

RILEY: I think that's a crock because that ref was cheating. Everybody on the team got fouled and nobody got sent to the line. We was getting clean blocks and he was calling them as fouls, and they kept going to the line because they're foul-line shooters.

Ms. DAVIS: The National Basketball Association says that referee Tim Donaghy is a rogue, isolated criminal, but I have joined the guys on this one. I figure there are other referees cheating in the NBA, and in school and community leagues. They just haven't gotten caught yet.

And this cynicism goes against my natural inclinations, but look around - Marion Jones turned in her Olympic medals for steroid use. It is hard to talk sportsmanship these days, especially when I no longer automatically trust the referees. So I am re-crafting my post-game talk. It begins like this. You know, people do cheat sometimes and sometimes they get away with it, but, but - and the problem is, I am not sure what to tell the guys after that.

BRAND: Writer Katie Davis, who occasionally coaches a basketball team in Washington, D.C.

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