Photo Credit: Dale Garvey

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee and the Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rule changes for 2019-20 that range from an expansion of video review and adding coaches’ challenges to updating the hit-by-pitch rules so that making a movement to get hit results in a strike regardless of pitch location.

There are also significant changes that aim to improve pace of play, which remains squarely in the crosshairs for college baseball.

Time Between Innings/Between Pitches – Appendix F

The time between innings shall increase from 90 seconds for untelevised games and 108 seconds for televised games to 120 seconds for all games. The 120-second clock shall begin when all defensive players have started to leave their positions after the last out is made. The clock stops when the plate umpire calls “play” for the first pitch of the first batter of the next half-inning. A team may use one of its charged conferences to avoid a penalty. If the offensive team is not ready within the 120-second limit, the umpire shall call a strike. If the defensive team is not ready, the umpire will award a ball to the first batter.

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The committee noted that although the length of time between innings would be potentially increased, the rule for when to start the clock would be more restrictive — specifically, starting the clock when the last out is made, instead of when the last fielder crosses the foul line — will create a consistent inning break and should reduce the overall duration of games and improve the pace of play.

Further, the 2019-20 rules recommend use of a visible clock for both between-inning and between-pitches timing to make adherence easier for coaches, players and umpires. The rules committee recommended a rule change that would have made use of a play clock mandatory, but the Playing Rules Oversight Panel rejected that recommendation, citing the cost implications, particularly for D-II and D-III programs. Where no visible clock is used, conferences may choose to instruct onfield umpires to use a stopwatch. “In either case, these time limits must be administered consistently at all levels of NCAA play,” the new rules state.

Visible clock or not, baseball officials want the pace-of-play rules enforced: “One of the things we are making a direct point in our training this year is these are not guidelines,” said Randy Bruns, NCAA baseball secretary-rules editor. “We’re making a big point about that at all levels. These are no longer guidelines. These are like the football play clock and basketball shot clock.”

Umpires who manage the between-inning timing on a stopwatch should raise their arm with 30 seconds left and visually cue the plate umpire. The plate umpire should then relay, “30 seconds left,” to the pitcher and catcher, and summon the leadoff batter to the plate. At 15 seconds, the base umpire should hold an arm off to the side. At expiration, the base umpire should point to the plate umpire.

If the catcher is the third out or is on base when the third out was made, and the 120-second time limit has expired, he will still be allowed to throw the ball down following the last warmup pitch.

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Defensive Conferences – 6-5f

A team will be allowed six defensive conferences during a regulation game. A maximum of three of these defensive conferences may include a coach.

If the game goes into extra innings, each team will receive one extra defensive conference and one extra offensive conference, plus any unused conferences from the first nine innings. If there is a pitching change, there is no charged conference.
“This hits right home to the pace-of-play issue, which is exactly why professional baseball instituted something similar,” Bruns said.

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Bruns said incidental communication is not considered a charged conference. Further, if a pitcher and catcher are crossed up on the signals, an umpire could direct them to meet even if the six conferences have been used. Additionally, if there’s an injury to a player or umpire, there is no charged conference.

Offensive Conferences – 6-5-f4 (deleted)

There’s no such thing as a free lunch — or a free offensive conference during a defensive-charged conference anymore. An offensive conference (PlayPic A) will be charged if any batter or runner leaves his position during a defensive-charged conference.

However, a pitching change is not a charged conference and the next batter and any runners are allowed to leave their positions to meet with a coach, but should return before the last warmup pitch so the game can be started promptly.

This rule change is aimed at pace of play by decreasing the number of unnecessary delays during breaks in the game and to allow for consistency in charging offensive and defensive conferences.

No-Pitch Intentional Walk – 2-7 (also 7-5)

The defensive team’s head coach will be able to signal to the umpire that he or she intends to intentionally walk the batter without throwing four pitches. This change aligns the NCAA with pro rules, which adopted a no-pitch intentional walk for the 2017 season.

Feint to Third From Pitching Plate – 9-3a

Pitchers will no longer be able to step directly to third from the pitching plate and feint the throw. That effectively ends the move of feinting to third and spinning around and throwing to first —– the so-called “third-to-first move.” Third base will be treated like first base: a pitcher who steps there on a pickoff throw cannot feint to the base; a throw must be made or a balk will be called. This change aligns the NCAA with pro rules, which adopted the change in 2013.

“The end result of that is from a pitching position, the only place you can feint a throw is second base,” Bruns said. “You can still step off and feint, but you’ve got to step off and become an infielder before you do that.”

Hit by Pitch – 8-2d-1

Under a new rule for 2019-20, a batter is not permitted to make an intentional movement to be hit by a pitch, regardless of where the pitch is located. If, in the umpire’s judgment, a batter makes an intentional movement to be hit by a pitch, the batter will not be awarded first base and, instead, will be charged with a strike. The pitch is ruled a strike regardless of the pitch’s actual location.

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Batters who intentionally move to get hit by a pitch will be charged with a strike, regardless of pitch location, under a new NCAA rule.

The rule change provides guidance in enforcing the hit-by-pitch rule and to deter batters from attempting to be hit by the pitch. A batter who “freezes” inside the batter’s box and gets hit by a pitch shall be awarded first base. “Freezing” by the batter within the batter’s box is not considered making an intentional movement.

“The whole idea is to encourage people to continue to avoid being hit whenever possible,” Bruns said. “But we know there’s a fastball that rises up that the batter didn’t have a chance to get out of the way. We expect those batters to go to first base.”
At the same time, freezing and getting hit outside the batter’s box doesn’t protect the batter.

Play 3: A batter gets frozen on a pitch but he is outside of the batter’s box when his arm gets hit by the pitch. Ruling 3: If the batter freezes and allows a pitch that is not within the batter’s box to hit him, the ball is dead and a strike is called. The batter is not awarded first base.

Bruns said the hit-by-pitch rule change stems from players moving in such ways as to intentionally get hit by a pitch — something dangerous in college baseball.
Because judging whether a batter intentionally makes a movement to be hit by a pitch involves a ball/strike decision, coaches may not argue the call, but they can use one of their two video review challenges.

“That’s a decision on a pitch like a ball and strike,” Bruns said. “But with video review, a coach has two challenges and that is something a coach can use one of their two challenges on.”

Obstruction Rule Changes – 8-3e-1

Defensive players may not block any part of the base with any part of their body unless they have clear possession of the ball. If the defensive player blocks a base before having clear possession of the ball, the umpire shall call obstruction, the ball shall be dead immediately and the runner involved shall be awarded one base beyond the last base the runner had attained before the obstruction.

The rule change is aimed at player safety and reducing collisions. Effectively, the obstruction rules don’t change — for example, nothing in the language involving the definition of obstruction has changed, neither have the collision rules — instead, what really changes is the interpretation of what it means to be in the act of fielding the ball.

“The act of fielding is much more restrictive and we’re trying to make that more consistent at every base,” Bruns said.

“Now that play all has to happen right at the base,” Bruns said. “If that throw is off you’re not going to be able to go up three steps because that’s where the throw was taking you. If that’s where the throw is taking you and you block the runner’s access to the base, that’s probably going to be obstruction. But if you’re giving that runner the path to the base and now you’ve got to jump or step in order to catch that — everything coming there at the same time — that’s in the act of fielding.”

Play 1: R1 is attempting to steal second base. F6 sets up with his leg and foot blocking access to the base. R1 slides into F6’s foot, the catcher’s throw arrives and R1 is tagged before he can get his hand on the base. Ruling 1: F6 is guilty of obstruction and R1 is awarded second base.

Play 2: R2 on second. B3 gets a base hit to center field. R2 tries to advance to third. F8’s throw to F5 is slightly off, and at the last moment, F5 is pulled into the path of R2. F5 tags out R2. Ruling 2: F5 was in the act of fielding the ball and is not guilty of obstruction. R2 is out.
Previously, the language in 8-3e-1 Note only applied to pickoff plays. Now it applies to all plays.

Windup Position – 9-1a

To be considered in a windup position, a pitcher must stand with his chest and shoulders generally facing the batter, with the pivot foot on or in front of and touching the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher’s free foot must be touching or be behind the plane of the front edge of the pitching plate (PlayPic A).

This clarifies the windup pitching position for umpires to properly apply the applicable pitching rules and further distinguish the windup position from the set position.

Set Position – 9-1b

For a pitcher to be in a set position, the pitcher must stand with his chest and shoulders generally facing the respective foul line. The pitcher’s pivot foot must be in contact parallel with the pitching plate, and his free foot must be in front of the pitcher’s plate (PlayPic C). It is permissible for the pitcher to turn his shoulders and face the batter while getting the sign and before bringing his hands together in the set position.

Backswing Interference – 6-2d

During a batter’s backswing (his follow-through after swinging at the pitch; PlayPic D), if the batter hits the catcher or the ball, the pitch shall be called a strike, the ball will be dead and no runner shall advance on the play.

This clarifies that any bat contact with the catcher during the backswing — including when the ball is not caught by the catcher — will be considered backswing interference. Previously, the rule language stated “as the pitch is caught.”
The exception in 6-2d-2 remains. If a catcher is in the act of throwing when the contact occurs, time is called and the runner returns, unless the catcher’s initial throw retires the runner.

Play 4: R2 on second steals on the pitch. B2 swings and misses, but as the catcher gets up and steps to throw, B2’s bat contacts F2. F2’s throw does not retire R2. Ruling 4: Backswing interference. B2 is charged with a strike. R2 is returned to second.

Backswing interference — a swing that unintentionally interferes with the catcher — is treated differently from batter’s interference, and the penalties for those actions are very different.

Intentionally Disrupting Pitcher’s Delivery – 5-15a-2

A batter may not use tactics with the obvious purpose of disrupting the pitcher’s delivery. If a balk or illegal pitch occurs, or if the pitch is called a ball, the call shall be nullified. The batter is ejected for unsporting conduct.

Play 5: On a 3-0 pitch, the batter deliberately drops his bat just before the pitcher delivers the pitch. The pitch is a strike. Ruling 5: The batter is ejected for a deliberate unsportsmanlike act. The substitute batter assumes a 3-1 count.

Bruns said it is important to assess the batter’s intent. If something happens unintentionally, call time and let everybody reset. But if intentional, it’s an unsporting act and the penalty should be invoked. If the pitcher stops his motion or throws ball four, that should be nullified and the batter should be ejected. If the pitcher throws a strike, the batter is still ejected, but the count now includes that strike.

Bat/Ball Persons – 1-15a

All non-roster, designated bat/ball persons — i.e., team personnel other than players or coaches — must wear a double-ear flap protective helmet while performing their duties. This change is aimed at enhancing the safety of support personnel.

Dugout Extension Area – 1-16b

Uniformed team personnel, coaches and extra on-deck hitters are prohibited from standing or sitting in the dugout extension area or dead-ball area on the home-plate side of the dugout during play. This is aimed at enhancing the safety of bat/ball persons who are supposed to be in this area by restricting coaches and other team personnel from entering those areas to observe the game.

Runner Touched by Ball – 8-5k

Rule 8.5k was modified to clarify the status of the pitcher for purposes of a fair batted ball striking a runner. The change in language codifies existing practices. A runner will be out if hit while in fair territory by a fair batted ball before it has touched a fielder, including the pitcher, or before it has passed all infielders who have a chance to make a play on the ball, other than the pitcher.

Video Review Expanded

For 2019-20, NCAA baseball rulesmakers approved expansion of video review to include additional plays and added coaches’ challenges.

The changes are reflected in Appendix E, Section 2: “Getting the Call Right with the use of video review.”

Under the new rules, each team’s head coach will be permitted two challenges per game. The head coach should notify an umpire immediately — within approximately 10 seconds — at the end of a play if he intends to use a challenge on the previous play. If on a game-ending play, the coach must call for a review before all umpires leave the field of play.
Those challenges can be used on any of the 12 plays identified as eligible for the use of video review — the first six unchanged from the 2017-18 rules; the last six new for 2019-20.

The unchanged six reviewable plays are:
a. Deciding if a batted ball is fair or foul. The ball must first touch the ground or a fielder beyond the initial position of the first or third baseman.

b. Deciding if a batted ball is either a ground-rule double or a home run.

c. Any catch or no-catch ruling in the outfield or foul territory.

d. A no-catch ruling in the infield in some instances. With runners on base, a no catch within the infield can be changed to a catch only if it results in a third out. With no runners on base, a no catch within the infield can be changed to a catch at any time.

e. Spectator interference.

f. Deciding scoring plays at home plate inclusive of collisions (illegal and/or malicious slides) or time plays.
Added to the list of reviewable plays:

g. Force and tag-play calls at any base.

h. Calls involving whether a base runner passes a preceding runner; determining whether a base runner scored ahead of a third out; and upon an appropriate appeal by the defensive team, determining whether a base runner touched a base.

i. Plays involving a hit by pitch.

j. Deciding if a runner failed to retouch a base after a fair or foul ball is legally caught.

k. Non-home run boundary calls including the placement of runners following a boundary call.

l. Deciding if interference occurred on a runner’s attempt to break up a double play.

The crew chief, at his discretion at any time during the game, may also initiate a video review on items a. through f. The crew chief may initiate a review of plays i. through l. only during the last two innings of regulation and any extra innings.

When centralized video review is used, the off-field video review official will be considered an extension of the umpiring crew and will have the ability to notify the umpires on the field that a review should be initiated. The off-field video review official will follow the same review protocols as the crew chief, including initiating review on items a. through f. at any time; items g. through l. during the final two innings or during extra innings.

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