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By Greg Johnson
A proposal from the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee to allow Division III teams to experiment with a re-entry rule is generating debate.
The proposal the committee drafted at its July meeting targets the Division III philosophy of providing opportunities for student-athletes to participate. The rule has some historical precedence too, since it was used in Division III baseball until the early 1990s.
The re-entry rule would allow a starter to return to the game after being substituted for, though he must return to the same position in the lineup. The rule would not apply to pitchers and designated hitters.
If approved as an experimental rule, both coaches must agree to it in advance (or the conference could develop a policy), similar to the current use of the 10-run rule.
The Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which is scheduled to meet September 8 via conference call, must approve the proposal. Institutions are welcome to comment on the matter through September 3.
The panel will not only have to deliberate the merits of the proposal but also the feasibility of it. NCAA policy calls for playing rules to be uniform among the three divisions, primarily to keep officials who work games in multiple divisions from having to learn different playing rules. Requiring common playing rules also allows interdivisional competition to be handled smoothly.
Exceptions can be made for rules proposals that come with student-athlete safety concerns or financial ramifications, but the baseball re-entry rule does not fit either of those parameters.
Allowing Division III to experiment with a re-entry rule in baseball certainly would resonate with other sports, too. Soccer, for example, has often sought a more liberal substitution rule but has had to abide by the more competitively restrictive rules that allow field players to re-enter the game only once in the second half. That provision exists for all divisions.
“A big part of the philosophy in Division III is student-athlete involvement and getting as many of them involved as possible,” said Joe Schaly, a member of the baseball rules committee and head coach at Thiel College. “This rule would give coaches more opportunity to get more kids into the game.”
It would also help a coach decide when substitutions are in order should the margin on the scoreboard grow.
“Some coaches are reluctant to make substitutions, because they aren’t sure how big of a lead is safe,” Schaly said. “If you can pinch-hit for a guy and put your starting shortstop back into the game, I think you are much more likely to do that if this rule were in place.”
Others, though, worry about unintended consequences. For example, is a coach sending the message to the substitute that he can’t be trusted to close the game out should the score become more competitive?
Schaly said he has a roster of 35-40 players at Thiel, which isn’t unusual for Division III baseball teams.
“The presidents are encouraging large rosters,” Schaly said. “If you never get into a ballgame, though, it is tough keeping those kids on the roster.”
The Division III Baseball Committee also reviewed the proposal at its meeting this summer. Some on that panel were concerned about the integrity of the substitution. An example could be having a fast runner from another sport on the roster to pinch-run.
Baseball Rules Committee members noted that the rule would be permissive, and that opposing coaches could simply decline to use it.
“You have to remember that both coaches have to agree for the rule to go into effect,” Schaly said. “If one coach thinks it will give the opponent a big advantage, he can say he doesn’t want to play with that rule in that game.”
Another argument against the rule is the tradition of the game itself. Many Division III Baseball Committee members believe that once a player is replaced, he should be out of the game for good.
If PROP approves the proposal September 8, the rule would be in play for the 2010-11 season and then re-evaluated next summer.