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Baseball umps may be allowed to overturn foul calls

By Greg Johnson

The Baseball Rules Committee at its three-day meeting that concluded Wednesday recommended that umpires be allowed to conference and determine whether a call on a batted ball should be changed from foul to fair.

If approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, the foul-to-fair procedure would be in place for the 2013 season. The panel will discuss this issue via teleconference on Aug. 16.

For the umpires to conference, the ball must have passed first or third base, be beyond the first or third baseman and been originally called foul. If the call is overturned, it will be up to the umpire crew chief to determine where to place all base runners on the play.

Umpires are currently allowed to conference on several specific types of plays. This new recommendation would be an expansion of the “Getting the Call Right” provisions already in the rules book.

The committee is also recommending that the foul-to-fair call be one of the plays added to the instant replay experimental rule at the Men’s College World Series. Last year, the committee decided to experiment with instant replay reviews at the MCWS on the following:

  • 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).

There were no instant replay reviews during the 2012 MCWS.

“This is a normal expansion of the philosophy of getting the call right,” said Jeff Hurd, rules committee chair and interim commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference. “It’s a step to improve the game overall. This is an aid to our umpires, who want to get the call right. This is one of those tools that can help them.”

Ejections

Another committee recommendation calls for all non-head coaching team personnel who are ejected for disputing an umpire’s call to receive a one-game suspension for the first ejection of the season and a three-game suspension for any subsequent ejections during the season.

The committee tracked the number of ejections during the 2012 season, and more than 600 combined ejections were reported in all three divisions. Of those ejections, more than half were either assistant coaches or players. This rule does not impact other ejections (for example, tobacco use).

The NCAA Baseball Rules Book states that only head coaches can approach umpires to discuss a call.

“We want to put some teeth into the ejection rule,” Hurd said. “Overall, around 350 ejections involved either assistant coaches or players. The percentages were around the same for all three divisions.”

Committee members believe stiffening the penalty will change behavior.

“We want to clean up the game,” Hurd said. “If there is a dispute about a call, the head coach is the right person to take that up with the umpire.”

Additionally, prolonged actions after an ejection (including head coaches) may result in a suspension.

New chair

Hurd presided over his last meeting of the committee. Davidson coach Dick Cooke was nominated to be the next chair.