NCAA Concludes Study On Ball Seams

The campaign to change the college ball is gaining momentum.

The NCAA Bat Certification lab at Washington State and the Rawlings Research lab have concluded a study about the “drag effect” of the flat-seam ball used in pro baseball vs. the raised-seam ball used in college baseball. The results—which were detailed in a letter from American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Dave Keilitz to the Division I head coaches—are striking.

The lab tested how far balls traveled from a machine at 95 mph with a spin rate of 1400 RPM and a launch angle of 25 degrees (replicating the settings of a typical home run). The research shows that the drag effect is real, and the longer a ball travels, the greater the drag effect. The raised-seam ball traveled an average of 367 feet, while the flat-seam ball traveled an average of 387 feet. That is a significant difference, and the difference between the two balls increases the harder a ball is hit.

It’s worth noting that the seams do not affect exit velocity, because the drag effect does not take effect until the ball travels a considerable distance. That means player safety would not be negatively impacted by a change to the lowered seams. Keilitz also said that the Division I Baseball Committee can declare the flat-seam ball will be used for tournament play, and no other steps need to be taken for the change to go into effect. Once that happens, conferences will surely adopt the same ball standards during regular-season play, though they will not technically be required to do so. The committee will meet on Nov. 4 to discuss the issue, and if it decides to make a change, it will likely go into effect for the 2015 season, giving schools a chance to use the new ball during fall practices next year.

Last October, Keilitz surveyed coaches and discovered that a majority of them support a switch to the flat-seam ball. Coaches have become increasingly vocal about their desire for a change in the game, led by Clemson’s Jack Leggett and Rice’s Wayne Graham.

“The fans love a balance in the game,” Graham said right after another historically low-scoring College World Series. “They don’t need the 77 home runs or whatever that (Barry) Bonds hit, but they need the excitement. There’s something about the superhero and the home run. I noticed some people saying, ‘Well, this is the real game.’ No, that’s not the real game. That’s the dead ball-era game. That’s not the game that popularized baseball. That’s not the real game—that’s poo-poo. The real game has balance.”

Graham made it clear this summer that he would like to go beyond the lowered seams and adopt the ball used at the pro level, which has a livelier center in addition to the flat seams. The college ball has a coefficient of restitution (COR) of .555, while the pro ball has a COR of .578 (the higher the COR, the farther a ball will travel). Keilitz said changing the COR “leads to some complications and would take some time to change even if the majority of the coaches wished to do so.” The primary complication is that different conferences have regular-season contracts with different ball manufacturers, and not every manufacturer makes the pro ball.

But in the survey he sent to coaches, Keilitz asked them to address whether they support a change in the seams and also whether they support a change in the COR.

“If the majority of you would like to do so, I will ask the NCAA Rules Committee and the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee to look into adopting the pro ball in the future,” he wrote.

And if the majority of coaches support the flat-seam ball, the Division I Baseball Committee is likely to approve that change for 2015. Expect a strong majority of coaches to vote in favor of the flat seams—and that will be a great thing for college baseball. Graham is right: Balance must be restored. It looks like it will be very soon.