Safety concerns prompt changes to baseball, softball rules

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Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, all balls used in high school baseball competition will be required to meet the NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) standard at the time of manufacture.

This revision in Rule 1-3-1 was one of the four changes recommended by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Baseball Rules Committee at its June 4-6 meeting in Indianapolis, Ind. All changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

“We are excited that our membership will now have equipment that meets a standard that is consistent across the country,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and staff liaison for baseball. “We are comfortable knowing that all baseballs for high school play will be the same size, same weight and have similar playability.”

The committee also revised Rule 1-5-3, which will require catchers to wear a chest protector that meets the NOCSAE standard at the time of manufacture, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

The NOCSAE standard has been developed to protect the heart and the cardiac silhouette from commotio cordis, which continues the committee’s focus on minimizing risk of injury for players.

“Being aware that a standard exists to protect players, this decision was easy to make,” Hopkins said. “When our catchers wear this chest protector, we are confident that the best protection for their heart is constructed into this equipment.”

The Baseball Rules Committee also modified Rule 1-3-2a2 regarding the components of a bat. The modified language states that bats “not have exposed rivets, pins, rough or sharp edges or any form of exterior fastener or attachment(s) that would present a potential hazard.”

A modification was also made to Rule 8-2-7, which strikes the language preventing a player who is awarded first base on a base on balls the ability to over-run the base and return safely.

The following week, June 12-4, the NFHS Softball Rules Committee approved an addition to Rule 2 about intentional walks, along with three additions to Rule 3 regarding uniforms and equipment.

All recommended changes were subsequently approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.
In Rule 2-65-2, the committee added language to include intentional walks into the fast-pitch game. The rule states that a request for an intentional walk can now be made prior to or during the at-bat by the defensive coach or catcher.

This change aligns fast-pitch and slow-pitch rules to keep up with current trends of the sports and maximize the flow of the game.

“The Kentucky High School Athletic Association experimented with intentional walks for the 2017 season, and the response from coaches and umpires was overwhelmingly positive,” said Sandy Searcy, NFHS director of sports and staff liaison for softball. “The NFHS questionnaire response from constituents was also very favorable.”

In another change, equipment no longer has to be inspected by the umpire or placed outside the dugout/bench prior to the start of the game. The rules committee agreed that the responsibility for ensuring that players are legally and properly equipped rests with the head coach and school administration.

“Umpires must remain vigilant in identifying illegal or altered equipment throughout the course of the game, and equipment violation penalties will continue to be assessed when discovered,” Searcy said. “However, it is the head coach’s responsibility to verify that his or her players' equipment is legal.”

The committee also approved an exception to Rule 3-2-7c which defines wristbands with a playbook/playcard attached as equipment.

The wristband shall be a single solid color other than optic yellow.

In Rule 3-7-1, a new note was added to clarify the number of pitches permitted for an incoming pitcher when the outgoing pitcher is removed by rule or injury. This change was made in order to minimize risk for the incoming pitcher.

The committee also revised Rule 6-1-2b by permitting the pitcher to step backward with the non-pivot foot at any time prior to start of the pitch.

This change is less restrictive than the previous rule, and allows for a more fluid sequence of motion and will aid the development of pitchers.

A complete listing of the baseball rules changes will be available on the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org. Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page, and select the appropriate sport.

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