The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved three experimental rules in softball designed to increase the pace of play in conference games for the 2017 season.
The experimental rules were approved Monday for use during conference games only for the autonomy conferences in the upcoming season. However, any conference from any of the three NCAA divisions may submit a request to the NCAA Softball Rules Committee before Feb. 6 to use the three experimental rules during the 2017 season.
The rules that will be applied in conference games for the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences are:
- Restricting the number of charged conferences, either offensive or defensive, to six per team. Teams may use two conferences per inning (one offensive and one defensive). Each team is allowed one conference, offensive or defensive, for each extra inning. The team representative(s) or player(s) who initiates any additional charged offensive or defensive conference will be immediately ejected. The current rules allow each team one offensive and one defensive conference per inning (i.e., 14 allowable charged conferences per team per seven-inning game, which does not include pitching changes).
- Defensive teams will not be allowed to huddle at the pitcher’s mound after an out. Teams will still be allowed to throw the ball around the infield, but the ball must then be thrown directly to the pitcher. The penalty for huddling at the mound the first time will be a warning (one per team per game) and any subsequent violations of the rule will result in a ball being awarded to the next batter. The current rule allows for teams to huddle after an out.
- Teams will have 90 seconds between innings before they are required to be ready to resume play. When the last defensive player crosses the foul line closest to her dugout, the third base umpire, or base umpire in a two-person crew, will start the time using a stopwatch. During the 90 seconds, the pitcher is allowed an unlimited number of warmup pitches. With 30 seconds left, the base umpire will announce how much time is left to the dugouts. When the 90 seconds has expired, the defensive team must be in position to start, including the pitcher in position to throw a pitch, and the offensive team must have its batter in the box ready for the first pitch. If the defensive team is not ready to play after 90 seconds, a ball will be awarded to the batter. If the offensive team does not have a batter in the batter’s box ready to hit, a strike will be assessed to the batter. All substitutions must be done at the beginning of the 90 seconds. If done after the 90 seconds, a warning will be assessed. Currently, there is no time limit between innings; however, pitchers are limited to five warmup pitches.
Institutions and conferences utilizing the three experimental rules will be required to gather data during nonconference and conference games and submit the information to the Softball Rules Committee for review at its annual meeting in June. This data will assist the rules committee in determining whether the experimental rules had any effect on the length of games and speed of play.
Although the experimental rules request did not include use during NCAA postseason, PROP expressed opposition to allowing any experimental rule to be used for NCAA postseason competition. Instead, the group recommended that the Division I, II or III Softball Committees interested in requesting permission to use the experimental rules during NCAA postseason go through the Division I Competition Oversight Committee, the Division II Championships Committee or the Division III Championships Committee.