Plate umpire Jack Floyd, Everett, Wash., watches as a team decides to intentionally walk a batter. Under a new NFHS rule, if the pitcher, catcher or coach makes a request to the umpire, the batter may be intentionally walked without having to throw pitches. (Photo Credit: Dale Garvey)

The NFHS Softball Rules Committee approved a handful of rules changes for the 2017-18 school year, but two in particular — allowing intentional walks and eliminating the pregame equipment check — will be embraced by many umpires.

The committee made those changes and more at its June 12-14 meeting in Indianapolis. All recommended changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

Special thanks to Sandy Searcy, NFHS director of sports and staff liaison for softball, for reviewing this article.

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No Equipment Check

Equipment no longer has to be inspected by the umpires or placed outside the dugout/bench prior to the start of the game by each team. The rules committee agreed that the responsibility for ensuring that players are legally and properly equipped rests with the head coach and school administration.

“Umpires must remain vigilant in identifying illegal or altered equipment throughout the course of the game, and equipment violation penalties will continue to be assessed when discovered,” Searcy said. “However, it is the head coach’s responsibility to verify that his or her players’ equipment is legal.”

Intentional Walk (2-65-2)

With the change, a pitcher is no longer required to throw four pitches out of the strike zone to intentionally walk the batter. The new rule states that a request for an intentional walk can now be made prior to or during the at-bat by the defensive coach, pitcher or catcher. The ball is dead when the request is granted.

This change aligns fast-pitch and slow-pitch rules to keep up with current trends of the sports and maximize the flow of the game.

“The Kentucky High School Athletic Association experimented with intentional walks for the 2017 season, and the response from coaches and umpires was overwhelmingly positive,” said Searcy. “The NFHS questionnaire response from constituents was also very favorable.”

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Play 1: With two outs, R2 on second and R3 on third, the coach of team B informs the plate umpire that he or she wants B4, with a 2-0 count, walked intentionally. Ruling 1: Intentional walks are allowed at any time during the at-bat.

Play 2: B1 is awarded an intentional base on balls. Immediately after the batter-runner has started to first base, the pitcher walks toward the catcher for a conference. B1 rounds first base and reaches second base. Ruling 2: The batter-runner must return to first base because the ball always becomes dead after an intentional base on balls is awarded.

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Play 3: As B4 is approaching the plate, the defensive coach informs the plate umpire that he or she wants the batter walked intentionally. Ruling 3: Legal.

Player Equipment (3-2-7c)

The committee also approved an exception to rule 3-2-7c, which defines as equipment wristbands with a playbook/play card attached. The wristband shall be a single solid color other than optic yellow. It does not have to match the color of an upper undergarment and it can only be worn on the non-pitching arm.

Play 4: Team A is wearing black undergarments but the pitcher is wearing a solid red wristband on her non-pitching arm with a playbook/play card attached to it. Ruling 4: Legal. Wristbands with a playbook/play card are considered equipment, not garments, so they do not have to be the same color as the upper body undergarments.

Play 5: Team B is wearing gray undergarments and optic yellow wristbands with a playbook/play card attached to it. Ruling 5: Illegal. The wristband with a playbook/play card can be any solid color except optic yellow (3-2-7c Exc.).

Charged Conferences (3-7-1)

In rule 3-7-1, a new note was added to clarify the number of pitches permitted for an incoming pitcher who has not previously pitched in the game when the outgoing pitcher is removed by rule. There is an exception allowing additional pitches if a pitcher is replaced for injury. This rule change adds an allowance when a pitcher is removed by rule. The change was made in order to minimize risk for the incoming pitcher.

The default number of warmup pitches is five. Allowing only five pitches to a player who is cold could become a risk issue; the umpire is now authorized to allow more than five pitches in those situations.

Play 6: Team B’s coach has used her three charged conferences. In the seventh inning, the coach (a) stops play to confer with her infielders about a bunt situation, or (b) checks with F1, who has just been hit by a batted ball. Ruling 6: In (a), the pitcher must be removed as pitcher for the remainder of the game. In (b), this is not a charged conference. The umpire should accompany the coach to check on the injured player and make sure coaching does not take place. If F1 is replaced due to the injury, the umpire may allow the substitute pitcher more than five warmup pitches.

Pitching (6-1-2b)

The committee also revised rule 6-1-2b by permitting the pitcher to step backward with the non-pivot foot at any time before the start of the pitch. This change is less restrictive than the previous rule, allows for a more fluid sequence of motion and will aid the development of pitchers.

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The previous wording in the rule stated that any step backward could only begin before the hands came together. Now it can begin after the hands come together as well.

Play 7: F1 brings her hands together and are in motion. She then takes one step backward before making a forward motion toward the batter. Ruling 7: That is a legal delivery.

Play 8: F1 has taken a legal position on the pitching plate. She then (a) steps backward, then brings her hands together; (b) starts bringing her hands together as she is stepping backward; or (c) brings her hands together then steps backward. In all cases the step backward is completed prior to F1 separating her hands. Ruling 8: Legal in all cases. As long as the step backward begins prior to the start of the pitch, it is legal (6-1-2b).

Editorial Changes

In addition to the rule changes, a few editorial changes were made by the committee.

Bench conduct, umpiring (3-6-12, 10-1-6). The rules committee expanded on rules for participants and umpires to include e-cigarettes or similar items. Any participant, coach, administrator or umpire shall not use alcohol or any form of tobacco product (including e-cigarettes or similar items) beginning with arrival at the competition site until departure following the completion of the contest.

The language provides further clarity and consistency for restriction of alcohol and tobacco use by participants and umpires.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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