Conferences occur in every game. It is extremely important for umpires to understand the rule differences between the codes to know what is and isn’t allowed. It is also just as important to track the conferences to keep everyone out of trouble.
First, let’s take a look at the rules regarding conferences, as some codes have changed rules over the past year.
All four codes are similar when it comes to charged offensive conferences. A team is allowed a maximum of one charged offensive conference per half inning. Whether a team uses its conference to relay a message to the batter, a runner, both, or multiple coaches want to get together to talk strategy, only one conference may be used per half inning. Any subsequent request for an offensive conference in an inning shall not be permitted (NFHS 3-7-2; NCAA 6.12.18; USA Softball 5-7a; USSSA 4-8b).
NCAA rules have additional stipulations. In NCAA play, a team may have a maximum of seven combined offensive and defensive conferences involving team representatives per regulation game. In extra innings, a team is allowed one charged offensive conference per extra inning.
NFHS, USA Softball and USSSA handle them similarly. A team is granted a maximum of three defensive conferences per seven-inning game. There is no limit on how many of those three a coach may use in any inning. For example, a team could use all three defensive conferences in one inning, without penalty. After a team has used its allotted three conferences, any additional conferences will result in the pitcher being removed from the pitching position for the remainder of the game. In extra innings, a team is granted one defensive conference per inning without penalty. Any additional defensive conference in the same inning requires the pitcher to be removed for the remainder of the game (NFHS 3-7-1; USA Softball 5-7b; USSSA 4-8a).
NCAA rules differ. A defensive team is entitled to only one charged team representative conference during the half inning. A team is allowed one additional conference for each pitcher entered into the pitching position who has not yet pitched in that inning. However, a team is still only allowed seven total charged conferences in a regulation game (defensive and offensive combined). There is never a penalty assessed to a pitcher if a team initiates an unallowed conference. Instead, the team representative or player who initiates the conference is immediately ejected (6.12.7 and Eff.). In extra innings, a team is granted one charged defensive team conference per inning, regardless of pitching changes.
Player-to-Player Conferences (NCAA Only)
This past season, NCAA adopted a rule to limit the amount of player-to-player conferences. In addition to the seven team representative conferences allowed, a team is allowed a maximum of two player-to-player conferences per inning, with a maximum of seven total in a regulation game. For each extra inning, a team is allowed a maximum of one charged player-to-player conference (6.12.9). The rule change was adopted to speed up pace of play. The other three codes have no rule restrictions on these types of conferences.
It is imperative umpires track all conferences to avoid allowing a team to go over the limit. Umpires can use the back of each team’s lineup card to write down the conferences or they can create a sheet and carry it in their lineup card holder. Creating a sheet and keeping it in the lineup card holder allows umpires to have a “cheat sheet” that is easily reviewable in case the umpire forgets the rules regarding limits in that particular code for that day. At a minimum, the plate umpire should track the conferences. Some NCAA coordinators require at least a minimum of one base umpire to track the changes as well and some coordinators require all umpires on the field to track them. Having base umpires track creates a system of checks and balances, but it also allows base umpires to prevent unallowable conferences before they start if the plate umpire is otherwise occupied and may not see the request for a conference.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to have everyone on the same page when it comes to conferences. Once a coach has used up all conferences in an inning or a game, the umpire should notify the team representative (or the player if it is a player-to-to player conference) the team is out of conferences for that inning or game. This preventive umpiring measure will help keep a team from having to remove a pitcher too early, potentially, or save a coach from being ejected. This is especially true in long innings when a coach may forget about taking a conference earlier in the inning. Stop a coach from taking an unallowed conference to prevent a lot of headaches.
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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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