An important Division II baseball constituency recently took another swing in the wood-bat arena. Time will tell whether it was an extra-base hit or something less.
At its October meeting in Phoenix, the Division II Conference Commissioners Association agreed on the following language:
“The D-II Conference Commissioners Association endorses and supports the idea of wood bats, with the intention of NCAA Division II moving toward a wood bat-only division by 2012-13.”
So, what does that mean?
In short, the commissioners are trying to move their conferences toward wood for regular-season competition in 2012-13. If they are successful, they hope the Division II Baseball Committee would mandate wood for Division II postseason competition beginning in 2013.
Division II Baseball Committee chair Jeff Schaly of Lynn said he has not heard from the commissioners since the committee met at the Division II College World Series last May. At that time, the committee expressed a reluctance to mandate wood bats for any region and said that such change would have to come from the bottom up rather than being nationally required.
With that in mind, Peach Belt Conference Commissioner Dave Brunk and Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Commissioner Dan Mara made the pitch for wood at the October meeting of the DII CCA, citing myriad benefits, including a return to the roots of the game; lower-scoring, shorter contests (with more time available for student-athletes to pursue social and academic experiences); better marketability to fans; and better training for hitters who aspire to play professional baseball, where only wood bats are permitted.
Nineteen of 22 commissioners were present and voting at the CCA meeting, and the vote reportedly was 13-4 for wood, with two abstentions, although at least some of the “no” votes might have indicated skepticism more than opposition.
Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Commissioner Butch Raymond said the CCA commitment, while significant, is merely another step in the process.
“We didn’t necessarily say that we’re definitely putting wood bats in for 2012-13,” said Raymond, who chairs the commissioners’ group. “We’re going to start working toward that process. We feel like we’re going to have to work from the bottom up. In other words, we’ll probably have to go region by region, conference by conference.
“We support the concept. We have all agreed to do what we can working toward that, but it’s certainly not a mandatory thing for 2012-13.”
After the CCA vote in October, the commissioners reported back to their conferences. One commissioner reported that a straw vote in his conference was 8-7 in favor of wood, with the principal concern being that wood bats, because they break, will prove to be more expensive than metal over the long term. Some coaches also believe that quality wood is in short supply and that the “good wood” will be taken by professional baseball.
Additionally, some coaches have deals with metal-bat manufacturers, although the proponents of the change believe that most Division II arrangements are not that substantial and that alternative deals with wood-bat manufacturers would be available in an all-wood environment.
“That was really one reason why we were discussing 2012-13, to give conferences time to perhaps get their own deal, or DII-wide deal or institutional deal,” Brunk said.
The change, if it is implemented, would not require a division-specific playing rules exemption since the rules permit both wood and metal. In inter-division play, the type of equipment can be determined by mutual consent of the competing teams. Under the commissioners’ approach, wood composite bats would be permitted in practice to reduce breakage, but they seek to use actual wood – defined as “a single piece of wood, from a tree” – for competition.
If Division II chose to go use wood-only, it would have no effect on how the other two divisions approach the game. ESPN reported earlier this year that sentiment at the top levels of Division I are decidedly pro-metal. For the upcoming season, all bats will be required to meet more wood-like standards.