Play ball! And hurry up!
The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee has unanimously approved two new rules intended to speed up the game. The eight-member committee, which met this week in Indianapolis, set a 20-second limit between pitches when no runners are on base and a 90-second limit between innings during non-televised games.
Barring major objections from coaches and administrators, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel will adopt the changes next month, said Ty Halpin, the NCAA associate director for playing rules administration.
Anything that helps accelerate games is welcome, said Ray Tanner, the coach at national champion South Carolina.
"I'm very much a traditionalist. However, the game needs to speed up," Tanner said Friday. "Most coaches would agree with that. We may not always agree on the way it should happen, but we all agree that the games sometimes get a little too long. This is a step in the right direction."
Halpin said the between-innings time limit would be flexible. One of the base umpires would be in charge of monitoring the pitch and between-innings clocks.
The recommendations basically mirror the rules used on an experimental basis during the Southeastern Conference tournament in May.
A pitcher risked having a ball added to the count if he violated the 20-second rule. A batter who stepped out of the box within five seconds of the clock expiring risked having a strike added. A team offending the between-innings limit — set at 108 seconds to accommodate television — also faced having a ball or strike imposed.
No violations were reported at the SEC tournament, but just the threat of a penalty helped play move along.
"Having experienced it, it does not affect the integrity of the game," Tanner said. "It just speeds the game up."
Division II commissioners are studying the possibility of switching to wood bats, since aluminum bats lead to more scoring and longer games. The NCAA does not track the time of games in the regular season, but the average College World Series game is rarely under three hours.
At the SEC tournament this year, five of the seven nine-inning games were played in 2 hours, 50 minutes or less. A year earlier, only two of eight such games finished that quickly.
"I know I hardly ever looked out there at the clock to see where we were," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "All the talk about it and all the thinking about it probably made everybody conscious about playing faster."
Halpin said the clock starts on a pitcher once the catcher has thrown the ball back to him. He must start his next delivery — whether in the full windup or stretch — in 20 seconds.
Rice coach Wayne Graham said the change will force coaches who signal pitches from the bench to be quicker.
"It's not between innings that is hurting anything," Graham said. "It's what is going on during the game."
Stanford coach Mark Marquess said he's open to ideas that make the game better, but he believes the changes shouldn't be rushed. He said conferences should decide if they want to experiment with time limits rather than implementing it in one fell swoop.
The rules committee also proposed a slight change to the obstruction rules. Previously, any contact between a fielder and runner could be called obstruction unless the fielder had possession of the ball. In the new proposal, a fielder who has established himself will be provided the opportunity to field the throw without penalty.
Also, home-run celebrations will be curtailed. The rules committee said players cannot greet the home-run hitter at home plate and instead can go no farther than the warning track area outside the dugout, or about 15 feet.
"The idea is to keep the excitement of the game, keep the enthusiasm, which is great for college ball," Halpin said. "But let's move it away from the plate and give the pitcher and catcher their space."
Texas coach Augie Garrido said he's heard no complaints about teams being disrespectful when celebrating.
"Absolutely it takes some of the fun out," Garrido said. "The umpires are going to have a hell of a time carrying around a tape measure to determine what 15 feet is. Next year they'll probably have a line there that you can't cross on a home run."