INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA (August 19, 2021) – New specifications for the softball will go into effect in NCAA softball in the 2024 season. The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel also approved implementing video review and allowing coaches to have two video review challenges beginning with the 2021-22 academic year.
The softball specifications will be standardized with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and USA Softball at a maximum compression of 275-375 pounds. The specifications take effect January 1, 2024 with a goal of improving inventory availability and assisting in cost containment.
Regarding the video review rule, there is no requirement to use it and it is optional for all schools, conferences and tournaments to implement. Over the past few years, conferences have experimented with video review in conference tournament games, including the Atlantic Coast (ACC), Southeastern (SEC) and Sun Belt conferences during the 2021 season. Softball Rules Committee members received positive feedback about the experimental rule and recommended that video review become a permanent aspect of the game.
Under the new rule, each head coach will have two challenges to initiate a review for the entirety of the game. A coach must verbally or visually indicate a challenge request before the next pitch, before the pitcher and all infielders have clearly vacated their normal fielding position and left fair territory, or before the umpires have left the field of play.
The umpire crew chief also has the discretion to initiate a review of designated plays beginning with the sixth inning of a game. The following plays can be subject to review via initiation by the crew chief or via a head coach’s challenge:
- Regarding batted balls (any ball higher than the top of the foul pole when it leaves the field cannot have that aspect reviewed):
- Deciding whether a batted ball called fair is fair or foul.
- Deciding whether a batted ball called foul should be a ground rule double, home run or hit-by-pitch.
- Deciding whether a batted ball called fair and ruled not to have left the field of play did leave the field.
- Regarding pitched balls at the plate:
- Deciding whether a pitch ruled a dropped third strike was caught before the ball touched the ground.
- Deciding whether a live or dead ball should be changed to a foul ball.
- Deciding whether a foul ball should be changed to a foul tip only with no base runners, or if it would result in a third out.
- Deciding whether a batter is hit by a pitch.
- Spectator interference.
- Obstruction and interference (including collisions).
- Deciding if malicious/flagrant contact occurred. Umpires may initiate this review without requiring a coach’s challenge at any point in the game to ensure student-athlete safety.
- Timing plays (deciding whether the base runner scored ahead of a third out).
- Force/tag play calls: Plays involving all runners acquiring the base before the defensive player’s attempt to put the runner out at any base.
- Blocked or dead ball/placement of runners: Deciding whether a ball not ruled blocked should be ruled blocked, and the proper placement of runners after any blocked or dead ball call.
- With no base runners, a no catch can be changed to a catch at any time. With runners on base, a no catch can be changed to a catch only if it results in a third out.
The following criteria will be used in games using video review:
- All equipment should be tested by appropriate personnel before each game.
- A ruling on the field will be changed only if there is indisputable video evidence to reverse the call. Absent that evidence, the original ruling on the field will stand.
- A review must be verbally or visually indicated before the next pitch, before the pitcher and all infielders have clearly vacated their normal fielding position and left fair territory, or before the umpires leave the field of play.
- Coaches have 30 seconds to verbally or visually lodge a challenge.
- The video review may be conducted on-site by the crew chief or by an off-field official at a centralized video review location.
- If video review is conducted on-site by the crew chief, the video review area shall not require an umpire to walk through spectators or dugouts to view the coverage. At least one umpire must remain on the field.
- During the video review, the defensive team shall maintain its position on the field and may warm up if desired. Offensive base runners and the on-deck hitter shall maintain their position. Other personnel shall remain in the dugout. Any defensive or offensive conferences will be charged as during any other part of the game.
- Once the review is completed, the crew chief will communicate the ruling to both head coaches and the official scorer. This should also be communicated to the broadcasting booth, if applicable, via the umpire who has a microphone. The following rulings are allowed:
- Ruling on the field is confirmed.
- Ruling on the field is reversed.
- Ruling stands due to no indisputable evidence to reverse it.
- If the reversing of a call results in the need for decisions on the placement of base runners, the crew chief shall use good judgment and/or the appropriate rule to determine where to place the runners as if the call had been made correctly.
- The final decision may not be argued by either coach. A coach who argues the final decision shall be immediately ejected.
Team conferences during play
With thoughts of increasing pace and flow of the game, teams are allowed a total of seven charged coach-to-player conferences to occur during a game, beginning with the 2022 season.
Teams are allowed a maximum of one per half inning. An additional defensive conference would be allowed for each pitching change if that pitcher has not already pitched in the half inning, which would count toward one of the seven allowable conferences.
In addition, teams are allowed seven charged player-to-player conferences per game with a maximum of two per half inning.
Time between innings
To further improve the pace and flow of the game, a standard time between innings — 90 seconds — was approved for all games (media or nonmedia). Pitchers will be allowed to throw any number of warmup pitches during this time.
Hitter out of the batter’s box
If the umpire rules a hitter is out of the batter’s box at the moment of bat-ball contact, delayed dead ball will be signaled, and the defensive team will have the option to choose either the result of the play or having a strike charged to the batter and all base runners returned to the base legally occupied at the time of the pitch. If it is the third strike, the batter is declared out. This was recently clarified by the rules committee.
Other rules changes:
- Adding to the rules book that a runner will be ruled out and may be ejected for a deliberate collision with a fielder regardless of whether the fielder has possession of the ball. Also, a runner who slides out of the baseline to slide directly at a fielder may be issued a team warning rather than immediate ejection if the action is not egregious enough to warrant an ejection. The action could result in an additional runner being ruled out if it is deemed interference.
- The stride foot of the pitcher can be on the lane line/pitcher’s plate at the start of the pitching motion rather than within the pitcher’s plate.