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NASHVILLE – The American Baseball Coaches Association’s annual convention begins every year with a day of meetings, culminating with a meeting for all Division I coaches, where the group is briefed on the state of the game and discusses any upcoming NCAA legislation that affects baseball.
After a difficult year that saw the defeat of college baseball’s bid to pass NCAA legislation to transform the volunteer assistant coach position into a third, full-time paid assistant coach, Thursday’s meeting was expected by many to include at least some lively debate. Instead, it passed uneventfully and was one of the quickest in recent memory.
ABCA executive director Craig Keilitz repeated much of what he said in the aftermath of the NCAA Division I Council’s rejection of the third-paid assistant proposal, vowing the continue the fight and prepare for when it can be again brought to a vote in two years. He also talked about finding a way to add more scholarships for baseball, another longstanding fight for baseball.
Baseball’s biggest piece of legislation up for a vote in 2020 will be modifications to its recruiting calendar, aimed at slowing down when high school players commit.
The NCAA, with its Student-Athlete Experience committee leading the way, last year eliminated all communication between coaches and potential recruits until June 15 before a player’s junior year of high school. Visits and scholarship offers would be allowed to begin Aug. 1 of that same year. Baseball was successfully able to remove itself from those restrictions, but the ABCA was asked to present an alternative specific to baseball that would still slow commitments from recruits in their freshman year of high school and before.
At last year’s convention, the ABCA’s panel responsible for rewriting its recruiting calendar proposed beginning contact with recruits on Aug. 1 after a player’s freshman year. It became clear over the last year, however, that the SAEC would not accept that date and baseball decided to push the date for initial contact back to Jan. 1 of a recruit’s sophomore year. It also would also allow unofficial visits to begin at that time, six months earlier than sports that fall under the NCAA’s broader guidelines.
Keilitz said the proposal is expected to be passed by the Division I Board of Directors when it meets this spring. The proposal would go into immediate effect.
The meeting also includes an update on on-field rules changes and points of emphasis for the upcoming season. This year will be the first with a 20-second pitch clock throughout the game, including when runners are on base. The clock, however, will not start until the batter, catcher and pitcher are in their respective boxes, which will likely lead to few violations. The umpire can start the clock regardless of the readiness of the players if they are attempting to intentionally delay the start of the pitch clock.
Ejections were up again in 2019, with 361 reported in Division I games, up from 337 in 2018. This has been a longstanding source of frustration for the NCAA, as baseball is unique among sports where ejections are commonplace.
As a result, the NCAA has asked the ABCA to explore the possibility of creating an equivalent to a technical foul in basketball or a yellow card in soccer that would give umpires a tool to use before going straight to ejection. Tufts (Mass.) coach John Casey will lead the committee.