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Baseball Rules Committee recommends changes to help umpires get calls right

Adjustments to replay, conferencing rules intended to help with close plays

To help ensure calls are made correctly, the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee is recommending that umpires be allowed to conference in order to confirm or overturn an original call as to whether a fielder made a catch on a ball hit into the outfield.

If approved, the rule would take effect next season.

Committee members, who met July 14-16 in Indianapolis, also proposed to expand the experimental video instant replay rule to include those “catch” and “no catch” plays. Conferences throughout the Association will also be able to make a request through the rules committee to use the experimental video replay rule in regular season games starting in 2015 in addition to conference tournament games.

Current NCAA baseball rules allow umpires to conference on certain plays. The proposal adds catches in the outfield to that list of plays. Baseball Rules Committee Chair Dick Cooke said both recommendations follow in the steps of getting the calls right.

“These are the kinds of plays that can have a significant impact in a game,” said Cooke, who is also the head baseball coach at Davidson College. “It’s likely that these types of plays may occur more than the plays umpires can currently conference on.”

All rules recommendations must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which is scheduled to discuss the baseball proposals via conference call on Aug. 26.

The video replay rule has been in effect at the Men’s College World Series since 2012 and is expected to last another two seasons. The only plays that currently may be reviewed are:

  • Deciding if an apparent home run is fair or foul;
  • Deciding whether a batted ball left the playing field for a home run or a ground-rule double;
  • Spectator-interference plays (only on plays involving home run balls); and
  • Deciding if a batted ball is fair or foul.

So far, the replay rule has not been used at the MCWS.

Under the “catch” or “no catch” proposal, if a play to the outfield is originally called a catch but is overturned by umpire conference or through video evidence, the play will be declared dead and the batter will be placed at first base. Each base runner will be advanced one base from the position occupied at the time of the pitch.

If the play is overturned in foul territory, it will be ruled a foul ball and all runners will return to the base they were occupying at the time of the pitch.

On plays to the outfield that are overturned from “no catch” to “catch,” all action prior to the ball being declared dead will be disallowed. The batter will be declared out and all runners will be returned to the base they occupied at the time of the pitch.

Committee members also want conferences to apply to use the experimental video instant replay rule next spring. Last season, the committee granted permission for the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the West Coast Conference to use the instant replay rule in conference tournament games.

The West Coast Conference had two video reviews in its 2014 conference tournament. One review confirmed the call of a foul ball hit down the left field line, and the other review didn’t have a conclusive angle on a ball hit down the right field line that was ruled fair, meaning the original fair-ball call remained.

“Hopefully, this can provide more replay opportunities so that we can get feedback of how it works,” Cooke said. “The conferences will do their due diligence to make sure they can implement the video replay rule before they reach out to us.”

Hit batter

The committee also proposed a rule change regarding batters being hit by pitches.

Under the proposal, a batter must make an attempt to avoid being hit by the ball. If the umpire rules the batter did not make an attempt to get out of the way, or that he leaned into the path of the ball, a pitch inside the strike zone that touches the batter will be called a strike. If the pitch is outside the strike zone, it will be called a ball.

“I heard about this issue the most from coaches I spoke to throughout the year,” Cooke said. “We want to make this rule as simple as we can to help the umpires.”

Foul poles

Committee members recommended requiring all foul poles in NCAA baseball to be painted fluorescent yellow by the 2016 season.

The committee has received feedback that some facilities have white, red or blue foul poles, but fluorescent yellow is the best color to help umpires determine whether a potential home run is foul or fair.

Seven-inning games

The committee recommended a rule change to allow a seven-inning game that originally is scheduled as a part of a doubleheader, but cannot be started, or had been halted or suspended, to be played as a seven-inning contest the following day or at a future time.

However, stand-alone seven-inning baseball games are prohibited in NCAA play. So the committee wants to provide specific guidance to ensure the double-header rules are applied consistently around the country.

Third-to-first pick-off move

Committee members engaged in a thorough debate regarding the fake-to-third-base, throw-to-first-base pick-off move. Major League Baseball has made the play illegal and any pitcher attempting the move is called for a balk.

There has been some discussion about whether NCAA baseball rules should follow suit, but the committee decided to table the issue because it would like to hear more feedback on its annual survey.

Only 27 percent of coaches responded to this year’s survey, and the committee would like to know the opinions of more coaches before addressing if the move should be made illegal in NCAA baseball.