By Greg Johnson
The Division I Baseball Committee at its meeting in November decided to leave the enforcement of the new pace-of-play rules at the championship with the base umpires rather than require visible pitch clocks.
The new rules require a pitch being thrown every 20 seconds when no one is on base. One of the base umpires at the championship will have a stopwatch to enforce the count.
Pitchers who do not comply initially receive a warning. Additional violations result in a ball being added to the count of the current batter. If the batter is at fault for the pitch not being thrown in 20 seconds, a warning will be given initially and additional violations will add a strike to the count.
Tim Weiser, the deputy commissioner of the Big 12 Conference and chair of the Division I Baseball Committee, said the group “wholeheartedly supports” the pace-of-play changes and believes the best way to enforce them at the championship is via the base umpires.
“It seems like this is the right thing to do for the first year,” Weiser said. “Certainly, the clock rules are going to be enforced.”
The rules, which were used experimentally last season, will also be in play during the regular season.
“We’ve heard that some conferences are planning to have a visible pitch clock and some aren’t,” Weiser said. “That means umpiring crews in some parts of the country need to be experienced with that clock. That’s why we don’t want to have umpires’ first experiences with the visible clocks be in the championship.”
Umpires also will keep the time on the field between innings, when teams have a 90-second limit to start play in nontelevised games. The committee is considering a 108-second time limit between innings of televised games, but that may be longer depending on existing television agreements.
The committee spent much of its fall meeting discussing long-term strategic plans on topics such as instant replay, the format of the tournament and looking at possible tweaks to the Rating Percentage Index.
Weiser said most of the talk concerning instant replay centered on a philosophical approach.
“If we equip ourselves to implement it in when the final eight teams reach Omaha, then why isn’t it important to do it earlier in the tournament?” Weiser said. He added that the number of cameras required to use replay effectively may be limited at some regional and super regional sites.
The committee will continue to discuss this topic in the future, Weiser said.
Committee members also talked about the format of the tournament. Currently, there are 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals on the first weekend, followed by eight two-team super regionals that are played in a best-of-three format. The winners advance to the College World Series.
The committee considered having 32 first-round regional sites that would be conducted in a best-of-three format among just two teams per site. It could possibly be followed by eight four-team, double-elimination super regionals. Another option is for the entire tournament to be conducted in a best-of-three format until the CWS. This would call for an additional weekend to complete the tournament.
“Some committee members feel that our regular season is being played in best two-out-of-three or three-out-of-four formats,” Weiser said. “If the regular season is being driven in that fashion, some believe that postseason play should be in a two-out-of-three format.”
One of the positives to shifting to a 32-team, two-team regional format would be an opportunity for more teams to host NCAA championship play, particularly those teams in the northern region of the country. But the need for more institutional staff, umpires and tournament managers would also increase.
Weiser said the conversation about tweaking the RPI had a familiar tone. He has served two terms on the committee, and this topic is always up for debate.
One possibility could be adding more weight to road wins, which is similar to what the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee did in 2005.
“If we change the baseball RPI, there needs to be good evidence as to why it needs to be changed,” Weiser said. “We’ve asked the NCAA staff to come back with different models to see what the impact is on each team’s RPI.”