August 1, 2001
Bat compliance a priority in softball
July 30, 2001
The NCAA Softball Rules Committee has cited bat compliance as a primary point of emphasis in the upcoming year.
The committee, which conducted its annual meeting July 9-12 in Indianapolis, wants to ensure that bats being used in the collegiate game meet specifications.
"We want to verify that the equipment in our game is readily available to all teams and within the rules," said Sharon Drysdale, committee chair and former softball coach at Northwestern University. "We will have to work out the details to make the compliance program effective, but I think it is a necessary step to ensure fairness."
In 2000, the three division championships committees approved a Softball Rules Committee recommendation to endorse the Amateur Softball Association Bat Certification Program for collegiate softball. The policy will become effective in January 2002.
Under the new specifications, bats must have passed the certification program and bear the ASA seal or be on the list of approved bats to be used in the collegiate game. The rules committee will continue to work on the details of the program and submit recommendations to the championships committees.
"We also considered a bat-sharing rule that would force both teams to use a 'community bat rack' for competition," Drysdale said. "We are going to continue to consider bat-sharing while we pursue the bat-compliance concept."
Along with the change in the bat standard, the ball-compression standard adopted by the committee in 1999 will be in effect for the first time in 2002. The new standard requires that balls have a maximum compression of 350, plus or minus 50.
In another equipment issue, the committee had voted in 2000 to mandate that all catchers' helmets bear the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE)-testing embossed seal of approval by 2003. Since the NOCSAE testing for catchers' helmets includes impact testing from both the top and the side of the helmet, skull caps, which do not have sides, will not be NOCSAE approved and will not be allowed in 2003.
Also, pitchers will have less time between pitches during the upcoming season. The committee specified in Rule 10-18 that a pitcher must release the pitch within 10 seconds of receiving ball or else the umpire will indicate it is time to play ball. The rule used to allow for 20 seconds before release.
In other actions, the committee:
Renamed the softball-specific term "DEFO" -- for defense only -- as the "10th player." Since the DEFO was no longer limited to just playing defense and is listed in the 10th place in the lineup, the committee wanted to eliminate confusion caused by the misnomer title.
Agreed to make an effort during the National Fastpitch Coaches Association annual convention and on the annual satellite clinic in January to educate coaches and umpires on the designated-player/10th-player rule to eliminate confusion.
Stipulated that the head coach or a member of the coaching staff, rather than a team representative, must attend the pregame meeting starting this season.
Voted that warm-ups must be suspended during the pregame meeting to prevent injuries to the umpires and coaches.
Voted to allow teams to use a radar gun and to chart pitches during the game, although scouting information collected outside the dugout cannot be given to a team during a game. The 2001 rules book also specified that teams were not allowed to tape games in which they weren't participating.
Voted to allow teams to tape games from television but not allow the use of a video camera to tape the games in person.
Agreed that in Rule 4, the requirement and duties of an on-site administrator will be listed, including crowd-control responsibilities and determination of the fitness of the field.
Recommended that Jay Miller, head softball coach at the University of Missouri, Columbia, chair the committee after Drysdale, who has chaired the rules committee since its inception in 1996, ends her term this fall.
Softball rules changes
In addition to the rules changes discussed in the accompanying article, other major rules changes are listed below in the order in which the change will appear in the rules book. A complete list of major and editorial changes can be found by clicking here.
The definition of altered bat will be changed to allow for grip replacement and will specify that the bat cannot be intentionally changed or marked rather than structurally changed as listed in the past editions.
The statement that a fielder will be credited with a legal catch when the player catches the ball while contacting or stepping on a fence while it is vertical will be deleted. The text will now reflect that a player must catch the ball before leaving the field of play to be awarded the catch.
The terms "effect," "no pitch" and "warm-up pitch" will be defined in the first chapter.
In Rule 2-12 about fitness of the field, it will now read, "In-game field maintenance shall be at the request of the umpire." This will eliminate unnecessary maintenance between innings that may delay the game or favor one team.
In Rule 3-2-b, bats made of titanium that meet the required bat specifications will be allowed in play.
Rule 3-8-a will be revised to list that all helmets bear the "embossed" NOCSAE stamp to avoid reconditioned stickers being misused.
The uniform rule will be revised to allow same-color accessories, which may include foul-weather wear, head gear, knee/shin pads, undershirts and undershorts.
The committee emphasized that bandannas are not allowed under hats or helmets.
Hosts shall designate an on-site administrator with responsibilities that include: determining, within one hour of game time and with the assistance of participating coaches, the fitness of the field in the event of unsatisfactory weather or facility conditions, ensuring the existence of proper sporting conditions and behavior of spectators throughout competition, and making himself or herself known to umpires and opposing coaches before the contest but no later than the pregame meeting.
A suggested pregame protocol will include team infield, pregame meeting, introductions, national anthem (if applicable) and play ball.
The pregame announcement was revised to include the following statement: "Please be alert for batted and thrown balls that may cause injury or damage to personal property, not only to participants but to spectators."
If a runner misses home plate and the catcher misses the tag at home plate, the umpire will not make a call or signal. The previous mechanic required the umpire to hesitate slightly and signal the runner safe.
Rule 8-5-b will no longer allow for excess warm-up pitches if the umpire delays the start of play for any reason. The committee thought the existing statement was ambiguous, and the umpire can allow for extra warm-up pitches as he or she sees fit.
During a player substitution, the plate umpire is required to report the change to both scorers and the opposing coach. Rule 5-a-6 used to just call for the scorer and opposing team to be notified.
An example will be added to Rule 9-9-3-d to clarify that the batter-runner may not slide into first base to interfere with the play on a preceding runner.
The rules committee outlined the effect of interference if a base runner has physical contact with a fielder attempting to field a ball batted foul, whether intentional or unintentional. If the fielder had a reasonable chance to make a play, the ball is dead. The batter-runner is charged a strike, and the offending runner is out.
When a pitcher is receiving the signal from the catcher, it is legal for her to roll the ball in her hand or up her wrist, but not further up the forearm. This is just a clarification, since the rule calls for the ball to be held in her hand.
The pitcher has always been prohibited from wearing items such as a batting glove or sweatband that are distracting to the batter. The rule will be revised to mention that the umpire, not just the batter, must consider it distracting.
In Rule 10-16, two additional exceptions to when the catcher does not have to return the ball directly to the pitcher will be added. The first is when the batter-runner is not entitled to first base but runs anyway. The second is when an errant throw from the catcher is intended for the pitcher.
In an effort to eliminate confusion, a new sentence will be added to Rule 11-4 to specify that a legally batted ball shall be judged fair if the runner interferes with a defensive player's attempt to field a batted ball while in fair territory. A similar addition will be made to the foul ball section.
The committee clarified that a ball that goes directly from the bat, not higher than the batter's head, to any part of the catcher's body or equipment other than her hand or gloved hand is a foul ball.
Rules 12-2 and 12-5 will be revised to note that a base runner who is entitled to a base because of a base award is subject to base-running rules. Upon appeal by the defense, she may be called out for base-running violations.
The following text will be added to Rule 12-8-f: "The base runner is out: When, following a conference, base runners switch positions on the bases they occupied. Each runner on the improper base shall be declared out and ejected. In addition, the head coach shall be ejected for unsporting behavior."
An exception will be added to Rule 12-25. If a runner must return to a base after an uncaught foul ball, there is no need for her to touch all the intervening bases.
In the scoring section, the committee made changes to recognize common practice by scorers for consistency purposes. An assist will no longer be given to a player who handles the ball before an error that prevents what would have been a putout. A throw out will not be given to the player who makes a good throw that is dropped in error by the receiver. A base gained by a player because of defensive indifference will be scored as a steal instead of as a fielder's choice.
A player will be charged with an error if her defensive mistake prolongs the time at bat with an extra pitch. (Rule 14-2-g)
Rule 14-12 will be revised under the new title of appeal plays to include batting out of order and inaccurate lineup card. The new inaccurate lineup card section will read: "Following a proper appeal, if a runner is removed from a base and declared out, the results of her at-bat are nullified and the putout is credited to the catcher."
The standard uniform for umpires will continue to be a powder blue shirt, but a navy blue short-sleeved pullover shirt with red and white trim may be substituted if all umpires concur. The cap worn must be plain or bear a conference affiliation (conference games only) and may not include the NCAA lettering or any other affiliation. The plain navy cap is the standard.
It will be specified that the umpire has the authority to make exceptions in order to protect the safety of the student-athletes, such as allowing extra warm-up pitches, when necessary.