The Division I Baseball Committee will move to the use of a flat-seamed baseball for its championship, starting with the 2015 Division I tournament.
Currently, raised-seamed baseballs are used in the Division I Baseball Championship.
Committee members made the decision to change to a flat-seamed baseball after research conducted this fall by the Washington State University Sport Science Laboratory showed that flat-seamed baseballs launched out of a pitching machine at averages of 95 mph, a 25-degree angle and a 1,400 rpm spin rate traveled around 387 feet compared to raised-seamed baseballs that went 367 feet.
On the NCAA’s behalf, the Washington State University lab evaluates and certifies baseball bats used in NCAA competition for compliance with bat performance standards.
In the flat-, raised-seamed baseball research, the speed and angles used in the testing were chosen because they are the conditions when typical home runs occur in Division I baseball competition.
Due to variables (individual bat speed, wind direction, whether the ball is stuck on the bat’s “sweet spot,” etc.) that can impact the distance a baseball can travel, not every trajectory hit with a flat-seamed ball will travel exactly 20 feet farther than a raised-seamed ball, but a 20-foot average difference is an approximate representation of what can be expected.
The NCAA’s official supplier of championship baseballs, Rawlings, also conducted testing of the flat-seam balls in its own research lab. That research was consistent with the findings in the WSU lab.
“We anticipate that this will moderately increase scoring but not take it back to the days where we were dealing with outrageous scores that looked more like football scores,” said Dennis Farrell, who is the committee chair and the commissioner of the Big West Conference. “We want to get the game back to what is a reasonable amount of scoring and defense.”
While the distance the baseball travels is increased due to less drag on the baseball, the health of and safety of the players will not be compromised. The core of the ball and the bat-exit speed will not change.
“We are always sensitive to student-athlete safety issues,” Farrell said. “According to the data we were presented with, those concerns are alleviated. The rationale behind making this change is hoping it will allow certain balls hit at certain trajectories to carry farther.”
Committee members were spurred to look at the research after becoming concerned with diminishing offensive numbers in the Division I Baseball Championship, particularly at the Men’s College World Series site in Omaha.
In the 2013 MCWS, there were only three home runs hit in TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, which opened in 2011. The first year of the new home of the MCWS also marked the year that the bat standards changed to make metal bats perform more like wood bats.
The bat standards were designed to protect pitchers and fielders from increasing bat-exit speeds and to bring balance to the game that was trending heavily toward the offense.
In 2011, there were nine home runs in the MCWS, and in the second year in the park, 10 homers were hit. By contrast in the last year at Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010, 32 homers left the park. Similarly, across all of Division I regular season baseball, offensive performance – batting averages, runs scored and home runs – has been on the decline in recent years.
The difference in the height of the seams between the two baseballs is small. The flatter-seamed ball has a seam height of .031 inches compared to .048 inches for a raised-seam ball. This flatter seam height is consistent with the balls used in minor league baseball, yet still higher than what is used in major league baseball.
The flat-seamed baseball may make it more difficult for pitchers to throw breaking pitches, but college baseball coaches feel their pitchers will be able to adjust over time.
A survey conducted by the American Baseball Coaches Association showed 87 percent of the respondents wanted to change to the flat-seamed baseball. Around 80 percent of the nearly 300 Division I baseball coaches responded to the survey.
The coaches were also asked questions pertaining to game excitement and home runs. Seventy-two percent thought the game needed more excitement and 69 percent believe Division I college baseball needs more home runs.
“The numbers from the survey means the coaches are making a strong statement,” Farrell said. “Even the coaches of programs that have traditionally strong pitching were in favor of going to the flat-seamed baseball.”