Photo Credit: Dale Garvey

At its recent annual council meeting in Oklahoma City, USA Softball voted to adopt several new rule changes for the 2022 season. The most significant rule change allows Junior Olympic (JO) and women’s fastpitch pitchers the ability to leap without an illegal pitch being called. Below are the rule changes for the 2022 season listed in perceived order of importance. Referee would like to thank Kevin Ryan, USA Softball director of umpires, for reviewing this article.

Pitcher’s Pivot Foot (6A-3k)

Pitchers in the women’s and JO programs may either push off and drag the pivot foot in contact with the ground or have both feet in the air. In the past, pitchers in these programs had to drag the pivot foot but were allowed some flexibility if a hole had been created in front of the pitcher’s plate. With the change in rules, umpires are no longer forced to guess if the pivot foot remains at the same height as the pitcher’s plate or if the pitcher’s pivot foot elevates. Pitchers may now be airborne with both feet (leap), provided the pitcher does not replant and restart (crow hop). It is still illegal if a pitcher leaps and lands with the hands together and pushes again.

“I believe the USA Softball Council felt that there are pitching techniques being taught that cause the pivot foot to disengage with the ground which was being called illegal,” Ryan said. “However, they did not feel this gave a pitcher an advantage, but allowed for different pitching techniques to be allowed in women’s and JO games.”

Play 1: On delivery of the pitch, F1’s pivot loses contact with the ground as she drives forward to deliver the pitch. F1 delivers the pitch as her pivot foot returns to the ground in a smooth drag along the ground without replanting. Ruling 1: Legal. The new rule allows the pivot foot to become airborne, as long as the pivot foot does not replant.

Play 2: On delivery of the pitch, F1’s pivot foot becomes airborne on her initial drive to the plate. The pivot foot lands on the ground and bears weight, then F1 drives from the new location while releasing the pitch. Ruling 2: Illegal. This is a crow hop and remains illegal. The pivot foot may not replant and initiate a second drive after losing contact with the ground.

Time Limits (5-10a, b and c)

A major change to the rules has an impact in the time limits in regard to JO fastpitch classifications. In the past, during JO pool play and elimination games, once a game reached the hour and 20 minute mark, the current inning would be completed then another inning (or half inning if the home team was leading) would be played. The new rule puts the time limit at an hour and 40 minutes and finish the inning. The new rule removes the requirement to play an additional inning once the time limit has been reached and adds an additional 20 minutes to the time limit. All other portions of the rule in regard to the use of a tiebreaker and at what stage of play the time limit are waived (elimination games, championship game, etc.) remain.
“The USA Softball Council came to the conclusion, based on feedback from our teams and coaches, that the old time-limit rule of playing one more inning was slowing the overall pace of play,” Ryan said. “In some cases, it was also causing gamesmanship in its own way.”

Play 3: During pool play in a 14-under national championship tournament, in the bottom of the fifth inning, the umpire’s timer expires indicating an hour and 40 minutes have elapsed. The score is tied, 4-4. Ruling: Umpires should finish the fifth inning and if the home team does not score, the tiebreaker will begin in the top of the sixth inning. If the home team scores in the bottom of the fifth, the game is over.

Play 4: During pool play in a 16-under national championship tournament, with the home team leading, 5-4, the bottom of the fifth inning concludes. As the home team starts its warmups in the top of the sixth inning, the umpire’s timer sounds, indicating an hour and 40 minutes has expired. Ruling 4: The umpires should play the sixth inning. If the visiting team does not score, the game will end after the top half of the sixth. If the visiting team ties the game or takes the lead, the home team would get the opportunity to bat in the bottom of the sixth.

Extra Players (4-1c-1)

This adds subsections d and e to the rule. Subsection d allows for one extra player so a team may bat 10. Subsection e allows a team to use the DP/Flex with one extra player and bat 10. In both, any player in the lineup can play defense and any substitutions for the pitcher and catcher must be reported. The new rule is in effect for all JO girls’ classifications. It is important for umpires to note that in e, the DP/Flex is in effect so if the Flex is removed from playing defense, it is considered a substitution.

Play 5: On the initial lineup given to the umpires at the pregame plate meeting, the home coach is using the DP/Flex and using an extra player (hitting 10). In the third inning, the coach decides to put the extra player in to play defense at second base, where the Flex was playing. Ruling 5: In this scenario, the Flex has been removed from the game and it counts as a substitution against the Flex. While any player in the lineup is eligible to play defense, if the Flex is removed from a defensive position, it counts as a substitution.

Play 6: On the initial lineup, the visiting coach is batting 10 players, using an extra player and not utilizing a DP/Flex. In the fourth inning, the coach wants to put the batter listed in the 10th spot (the original extra player) in to pitch. Ruling 6: Legal. The coach must report the change to the plate umpire since the change pertains to the pitching position. All 10 batters in the lineup will still bat as any of the 10 players listed may play defense and there is no change to the batting order.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Rule (4-2l)

This creates an additional section to the ADA Rule which allows a player with a disability, who needs to come out of the game due to the disability, to have a replacement player until the disability subsides. In the event of a diabetic event or any other medical event that requires the player to come off the field until the event is over, it allows another player to go into the game and does not count as a substitution. Some rule codes have recently adopted rules similar to deal with potential concussions. The important thing to remember is to allow treatment of the player and allow another player in to take the place of said player without penalty.

Bat Attachment (3-1d)

This change affects the way in which bat attachments are added to the grip. The rule removes the language that required attachments such as molded finger grips, a flare cone or choke-up device to be attached with grip tape. Using tape to attach these to the bat is no longer required.

Slow-Pitch Count (7-3b)

All JO girls’ classifications of slow-pitch play will utilize a one ball, one strike count to all batters entering the batter’s box. This puts girls’ JO slow pitch in line with other classifications and will help with pace of play.

Slow-Pitch Time Limit (6C-3j)

For slow-pitch games, pitchers have five seconds to release the next pitch after receiving the ball or after the umpire indicates “play ball.” In the past, pitchers had 10 seconds to release the pitch. Failure to release the ball within five seconds results in an illegal pitch infraction.

Ball Specifications (3-3a)

USA Softball is adopting specifications for the 12-inch fastpitch ball that will create common specifications among USA Softball, NFHS and NCAA rule codes. NFHS and NCAA rule codes have already adopted these specifications and it is designed to help manufacturers who create the ball. The new specifications will go into effect in 2024.

Player Designation (4-1c)

This changes the designation of “baseman” to “base player.” The change better represents all who participate in USA Softball and makes the designation gender neutral.

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