July 30, 2001
The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee is seeking input and ideas on ways to shorten the playing time of college games.
During its annual meeting July 9-11 in Avon, Colorado, the committee learned that Division I tournament contests inched above the three-hour mark -- thanks mainly to a record 3:24 per-game length for the Men's College World Series.
Scoring in Omaha was only slightly below the all-time high set in 1998, yet this was the sixth year in a row that game times exceeded three hours at Rosenblatt Stadium. This year's average time was the longest by seven minutes.
"In an effort to accommodate all baseball fans and keep them involved, we have to take a serious look at the time of games," said Lynn Thompson, director of athletics at Bethune-Cookman College and chair of the committee.
The committee may be able to get at the issue through rules surveys to be forwarded to the American Baseball Coaches Association membership this fall. Survey questions could include the following topics: possible elimination of the designated hitter, study of the "mercy" or 10-run rule, a cap on defensive conferences and discussion of experimental rules.
"There's not one change that would make a significant difference, but there are a variety of factors we should look at," Thompson said. "We want input from coaches, umpires and administrators. It's something we've just begun to study."
The committee compared game times between the three divisions and found that Division I contests played during the 2001 tournament were conducted in three hours and one minute, with an average score of 9.2 to 4.5. Division II games had a nearly identical score -- 9.4 to 4.3 -- yet were played in an average of 2:39. Division III tournament scores averaged 7.3 to 3.4, with an average game time of 2:40.
The committee recognized television as an obvious factor in longer games, especially in Omaha, but noted that most of the 136 Division I tournament games were not televised.
In other business, the committee received a report on the Umpire Improvement Program from Dave Yeast, the NCAA national umpire coordinator. Among the items Yeast discussed was a way for umpires to assure themselves of the correct calls on the field, even through possible reversal of a previously rendered decision.
Yeast also received committee approval to pursue discussions with the Collegiate Commissioners Association on a printed umpire manual that would contain mechanics and philosophy for collegiate umpiring.
The committee discussed with Yeast continued efforts at a nationally consistent interpretation of the playing rules. The definition of the set pitching position was altered last year, and balks were called much more frequently in some parts of the country than in others. The Men's CWS then set a series record for balks, with many coaches complaining their games had not been called using the new definition all season.
Injury data remained consistent in baseball, with the sport being shown as one of the safest in college athletics. The committee learned that a pilot program of drug testing for banned substances will begin in January 2002 for Division II student-athletes. There will be no penalty for the offending players, but data will be provided to assess the level of banned substance use in baseball.
Division I scoring, batting-average and earned-run-average trends were down for a fourth straight year, with home-run averages showing only a slight increase. Scoring and earned-run averages are down 10 percent from their 1998 record highs, and batting average is down 10 percentage points from that same season.
Continued study of baseballs will take place this fall, with all baseballs expected to meet 2002 guidelines for weight and coefficient of restitution (COR). The weight remains between 5 and 5 1/2 ounces, but balls next season must have a COR value of between .525 and .555 to be eligible for NCAA play.
Finally, the rules committee plans to recommend to the Division I Baseball Committee that the fences at Rosenblatt Stadium be moved to between 375 and 380 feet in the power alleys, up from the current distance of 360.
Construction plans are in place for the off-season that will move the fences to 370, but the committee noted the NCAA Baseball Rules book recommends 375 feet in the alleys for collegiate playing fields. And with a prevailing wind in Omaha toward the center-field fence, an extra five to 10 feet would help balance those games that are the highlight of the college baseball season.
There were 43 home runs hit during the 13 Men's CWS games this year, and the per-team, per-game average of 1.65 home runs was more than double the average of 0.81 for the entire 2001 season.