The 2017 NCAA baseball season opened with some new rules set to impact the game. The most anticipated of those rules was the use of video replay.
Video replay is not new to college baseball. It has been in the experimental phase for the College World Series since 2012, and has also been used in Division I Baseball Championship Super Regionals since 2015.
Currently, the new regular season rule is permissive, allowing conferences to decide how they will use it.
What led to the change?
“The increased number of games being put on television and the fact that there were conferences that request it every year for the playoffs,” said Ben Brownlee of the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel. “Really it was just putting the experimental rule in the regular season.”
With the rule being permissive, it allows all three divisions of play to use it, providing they have ample technology to do so.
“We made it permissive so that it was not restricting it to only Division I,” Brownlee said. “If Division II and Division III are able to broadcast and have an angle and a feed that they can put on field level, Division II or Division III can use replay.
“That’s one of the reasons plays at the plate were included. We felt even a Division III that has a static high home plate cam could have a good view for the umpire to replay a play at the plate, and a scoring play is a very impactful play in the game. Being able to review that is something we wanted to make available to everybody.”
This was the case in a March 18th bout between SEC foes Kentucky and Texas A&M. The Wildcats pulled off a come-from-behind victory that day. The game-winning run was scored when Kentucky's Zach Reks executed a thrilled squeeze bunt, scoring Marcus Carson from third base. The play was initially called safe, and thanks to the use of video replay, the play was confirmed. Kentucky won, and continues to mainatin control of the SEC East Division.
This wasn't the case for Auburn, whose fortunes were changed due to replay against SEC rival Georgia. The Bulldogs had just tied the game 1-1 on a sacrifice fly when Aaron Schunk came to bat. Michael Curry, who was at second, was called out at the plate on Schunk's single. Upon further review, the call was reversed, giving Schunk the go-ahead RBI single. The Bulldogs gwent on to end Auburn's 9-game winning streak, handing them their first SEC loss of the season.
Not every play is reviewable. The plays that can be reviewed are:
• Deciding if an apparent home run is fair or foul.
• Deciding whether a batted ball left the playing field for a home run or a ground-rule double.
• Spectator-interference plays.
• Deciding if a batted ball is fair or foul.
• Deciding whether a fielder did or did not make a catch on a fair batted ball hit into the outfield or on any foul ball.
• Deciding scoring plays at the plate.
• Determining if a player should be ejected for a collision (illegal or malicious slides).
• Determining if a run scored on timing plays. (An example would be to determine if a base runner scored before the last out of an inning was recorded at another base.)
That leaves plays at the bases out of the equation for now. Part of the reason behind that? Today’s ever-growing concern with pace of play.“That did come into play,” Brownlee said of pace of play. “That was one of the reasons we didn’t include plays at the bases. We felt that if coaches had the opportunity to argue and go to replay for every bang-bang play at first base, the pace of play and duration of play was going to go through the roof. At the major league level, they have somebody upstairs that is looking at the replay saying you are going to want to challenge that or you aren’t going to want to challenge that. You are essentially basing that off the first base coach that is going to be arguing that the guy made it more often than not.
“I don’t see us keeping them out of the review forever, but the committee didn’t feel we were there yet.”
Thus far, with the rule being permissive, there isn’t any concise data to show its successes or shortcomings, but Brownlee does "know that the SEC is using it pretty extensively.”
Also coming into play this season were rules in regards to illegal bats and windup positions.
“There were some things in regard to the stretch and the windup,” Brownlee said of the new pitching rule. “ Some people were doing some more of a sideways approach to the rubber, and it could be deceptive. We changed it so the pitcher basically has to declare with his shoulders and chest that he is into the windup or the stretch. There has to be a specific direction."
Thus far, as with replay, it has been seen as a success, with little resistance. That being said, there is always an adjustment period.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of negative feedback,” Brownlee said. “We had a couple of things in regards to pitching, that I wouldn’t say that we are unhappy with or have any reservations with, but it’s more that we think the membership may take a little longer to adapt to that. Otherwise the committee is pretty pleased with the way it has gone so far. Obviously we will see if they think the membership is still pleased as the playoffs get closer, that tends to be the time things come out.”
Come the end of the 2017 season, thanks to more data and larger sample sizes, the committee will be better able to assess how much of a success year one of video replay was. Until then, play continues to roll toward Omaha.
“We’re interested to hear back from some of the conferences in the past that had requested the use of replay and see how it went,” Brownlee said. “We’d like to see if there is any feedback with how replays were done in regards to scoring plays or plays at the plate. We want to get the data. We have limited data compared to major league level, so when we are reviewing our data, sometimes less is better. If we’re not having to go to review, it also means that the umpires are properly evaluating the situation which is seen as a benefit”.