By Ty Halpin
To improve the pace of play in college baseball, the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee is recommending a time limit between innings, stricter enforcement of the 20-second rule between pitches when no runners are on base, and keeping batters in the batter’s box between pitches.
The Baseball Rules Committee last week sent those proposals to the membership for comment and to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel for review.
“We believe that enforcing these time limits will keep the game moving without artificially altering play,” said Gary Overton, chair of the committee and assistant athletics director at East Carolina.
The committee also made several recommendations that addressed safety concerns. If approved, the proposals would take effect during the 2011 season.
The pace-of-play actions came after the rules were used experimentally last year. The committee this year voted to mandate the use of a timing device and implemented penalties for noncompliance.
Current rules require pitchers to start their delivery in no more than 20 seconds without runners on base. That rule remains, but an umpire will be required to monitor and enforce the time limit.
Additionally, in non-televised games, umpires will enforce a 90-second limit between innings. The committee recommended a time limit for televised games of 108 seconds, which the Southeastern Conference used experimentally during its league tournament in May. However, the committee acknowledged that the time between innings will continue to be a negotiable point in television agreements.
“The committee was pleased with the results of the clock experiments last year,” Overton said.
In this proposal, conferences may choose to use a visible clock and assign a qualified operator, such as a back-up umpire, to administer these rules.
In another recommendation, committee members proposed altering rules governing obstruction to provide fielders the ability to make a play on a thrown ball during a play at a base. Previously, any contact made between a fielder and runner could be called obstruction unless the fielder had possession of the ball.
In the new proposal, a fielder who has established himself will be provided the opportunity to field the throw without penalty.
“This change is being made after careful consideration of our current rule and how this play was adjudicated previously,” Overton said. “The rules governing collisions and dangerous plays have not changed, but the committee believes the fielder must be allowed some room to make a play on a thrown ball.”
The committee plans to collect and distribute video examples to help umpires, coaches and players understand the change. An exception was approved for pickoff plays that requires the fielder to have possession of the ball before any contact with the runner occurs.
Committee members also voted to limit offensive team personnel to the warning track area (recommended to be 15 feet) outside the dugout during home run celebrations. Overton said the recommendation is not meant to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding home runs but to establish a zone that should lessen the chance of any unsportsmanlike conduct and give umpires a better chance to regulate the area.
“Our brand of baseball is special because of the teamwork and support our players have for one another,” Overton said. “We certainly don’t want to lose that element in the game. On the other hand, allowing teams to surround the pitcher and catcher after a home run is a potentially volatile situation, and this change simply keeps the playing area clear and allows the umpires to better manage these situations.”
In other actions, the committee approved two points of emphasis for this rules cycle, which covers the 2011 and 2012 seasons. One regards the relationship between coaches and umpires, which is an area of continued concern.
“The committee recognizes the need for coaches and umpires to engage in healthy discussion and explanation of the rules without creating unneeded delays in the game and unsporting conduct,” Overton said. “This is the balance we’re trying to achieve.”
The other point of emphasis is to enforce rules governing the batter’s box area, particularly making sure the batter doesn’t step out of the box between pitches.
The committee also agreed to allow the experimental use of re-entry rules for Division III institutions in response to requests for additional participation opportunities. In this experimental phase, mutual consent of both coaches must be in place (or conference policy), similar to the use of the 10-run rule. The re-entry rule allows a starter to return to the game after being substituted for, but he must return to the same position in the lineup.The pitcher and designated hitter may not re-enter the game once removed.
The panel also named Jeff Hurd, senior associate commissioner at the Western Athletic Conference, as the new chair of the committee, effective September 1.
Ty Halpin is associate director of playing rules administration at the NCAA.