After several false starts over the last decade, a 20-second pitch clock is coming to college baseball in 2020, the NCAA announced on Wednesday.
The NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved the pitch clock after the Baseball Rules Committee last month recommended the measure. The 20-second clock will be enforced before all pitches. If a pitcher violates the rule, a ball will be awarded. A violation by a hitter will result in a strike.
Significantly, it will be optional for schools to install visible pitch clocks. If a school does not have a clock, an umpire will keep the time on the field.
The Baseball Rules Committee had proposed pitch clocks three times before in the last decade, including last year. That proposal, however, would have required schools—from Division I to Division III—to install two visible clocks. That remains the recommendation, but it is no longer required. That change makes the move to pitch clocks more palatable to schools because they no longer have to buy and install the clocks, as well as pay someone to run it. That would not have been a small expense for schools in lower divisions.
The pitch clock was introduced in college baseball well in advance of Wednesday’s ruling. The SEC has used a pitch clock in some capacity for a decade, beginning in 2010 during the SEC Tournament. Its use has since been expanded to all SEC games, and the Big 12 has experimented with a 15-second clock, beginning in 2018. After that season, the conference said it cut its average time of game by 13 minutes.
Despite the Big 12’s data point, the pitch clock’s effectiveness in improving the pace of play in college has been open for debate. SEC observers note that violations are very rare, though others note that SEC games often feel quicker than those in other conferences.
Pitch clocks are becoming increasingly more common in baseball, however. Minor League Baseball implemented them at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2015, and it has been heavily discussed in the major leagues. Now, they are coming to college baseball as the effort to speed up the game continues.