Matters Of Pace

College baseball committees pick their battles carefully

The Division I Baseball Issues Committee is concerned about the pace of play, but its members know there is little they can do about the pace of academic, scholarship and scheduling reforms. At its July 28 meeting, the Issues Committee debated recommending that the roster cap on scholarship players remain at 30 instead of dropping to 27 as scheduled, and debated supporting a proposal by Conference USA to start the season a week earlier, but in the end the committee decided to let matters run their course. Then, at a conference call this week, the executive group of the Academic Enhancement Working Group followed suit.

Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association and a member of both committees, said a survey of Division I coaches reveals that a strong majority (65 percent) want the cap to remain at 30 instead of decreasing to 27 next year. But he said the main reason for the inaction on the issue was a strong indication that university presidents are unwilling to tinker with any part of the sweeping academic reform legislation until it has been in place for a couple of years. This spring, the enhancement group recommended a change that would allow walk-on players to transfer freely without sitting a year, but the Board of Directors rejected the proposal and said it did not want to alter the legislation until more data comes in.

"Both the issues committee and academic enhancement group said obviously the Board is not interested in looking at that (reform package) at this time, so we won't move that forward," Keilitz said. "The No. 1 thing with our coaches is to maintain the 56 games. Both of those groups felt that we don't want to constantly take these issues to the Board—especially when the Board is not interested in hearing it—and take their attention back to the 56 games. That is of utmost importance and we don't want to lose that."

Faculty representatives from the Pacific-10, West Coast and Big South conferences have introduced a proposal that would change the schedule to 52 games in the spring and four in the fall, but that option drew just 31 percent support from coaches in Keilitz's survey, so the working group voted to condemn the longshot measure. Sixty-nine percent of coaches want to keep the 56-game schedule, Keilitz said, although just 20 percent want to keep the current 13-week schedule. By contrast, 49 percent favor a 14-week schedule. That's exactly what CUSA has proposed—moving the start date one week earlier to give teams an extra week to fit in their 56-game schedules. Keilitz said the two committees were content to let that proposal move through the normal legislative process rather than recommend it to the Board. If all goes well, it could go into effect by the 2010 season.

So instead of making any earth-shattering recommendations about those issues, the issues committee and academic enhancement group focused instead on ways to improve the sport's pace of play, a concern that was also addressed by the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee a few weeks earlier.

"As coaches, we have to make a great attempt to try and speed up our game. Basically, I think it's for the good of the game, for the good of the player, and especially for the good of the fan." Keilitz said. "It has grown in length every year. People don't want to sit through a four-and-a-half-hour game. You lose the fan base and you lose television. The issues committee talked about that for a long time and had some great suggestions. So coming shortly, we will have a conference call with coaches for this to be discussed. As coaches, we have to discuss this and everybody make an attempt to have a well-played game in shorter time."

On July 17, the Rules Committee made several recommendations to address the pace issue. Most notably, the committee reinforced time limits (a pitch must be delivered within 20 seconds with no runners on base), the batter's box rule (the batter must generally keep one foot in the box during an at-bat), handling of conferences (defensive and offensive) and speeding the time between innings and during pitching changes.

"This is an area that we need cooperation from several constituencies," said Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, outgoing chair of the Rules Committee (UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Brontsema will replace him). "We need our umpires to move the game along and we are asking our coaches and administrators to support them in this effort."

The Rules Committee also addressed sportsmanship, emphasizing in-game celebrations on the field and orchestrated dugout actions intended to intimidate the opposing team. The committee's other notable action was to approve a proposal that will require base coaches to wear helmets, as they now do in professional baseball.