The NCAA announced today that based upon the success of the pitch clock experiment at the SEC Tournament last year, they will be mandating the pitch clock be used league wide in an attempt to pick up the pace of games.
After allowing the use of a pitch and between innings clock experimentally last year, the committee voted to mandate the use of a timing device and implemented penalties for non-compliance. Current rules require pitchers to start their delivery in no more than 20 seconds without runners on base. This rule remains and an umpire will be required to monitor and enforce this time limit. Additionally, in non-televised games, umpires will enforce a 90 second limit between innings. The committee recommended a time limit for televised games of 108 seconds, which the Southeastern Conference used experimentally during the 2010 season. However, the committee acknowledged that the time between innings will continue to be a negotiable point in television agreements.
This isn't a huge game changer by any stretch. The rule for length between innings and between pitches has been part of baseball for several years. This new rule appears to only mandate a "play clock" like mechanism so the umpire can track the time without having to check his watch incessantly. There's enough other things for an umpire to watch closely other than his watch, and this makes it much easier for an umpire to enforce because the clock is in the open for all to see.
That said, this won't impact length of games more than 5-10 minutes for most teams. If anything, between innings will become a bit shorter, and that's it.
Obstruction While Making a Play
The NCAA had a vague obstruction rule regarding infielders making a play on a ball at a base while a runner was coming to the bag. For example, under the old set of rules, a batter grounds the ball to short stop. The short stop fields and throws an off line throw to first. The first baseman has to move up the line towards the batter-runnner. Before the first baseman can secure the ball, the runner and the first baseman hit each other with glancing blows. This would have lead to an obstruction call against the first baseman and the batter would be given first base, even if the first baseman was able to secure the ball, then tag him before reaching the bag.
Basically, you're punishing the first baseman for trying to make a play on the thrown ball way despite the fact that the runner could have gone around him in the running lane.
The committee also proposed a slight change to the obstruction rules, in an effort to provide fielders the ability to make a play on a thrown ball during a play at a base. Previously, any contact made between a fielder and runner could be called obstruction unless the fielder had possession of the ball. In the new proposal, a fielder that has established himself will be provided the opportunity to field the throw without penalty.
“This change is being made after careful consideration of our current rule and how this play was adjudicated previously,” said Overton. “The rules governing collisions and dangerous plays have not changed, but the committee believes the fielder must be allowed some room to make a play on a thrown ball.”
The rule change gives the fielder an opportunity to field a throw. This makes complete sense and should reduce unnecessary collisions as the runner has no incentive to go right through a fielder making a play.
Home Run Celebrations
The final rule change that should affect Division 1 is related to post-home run celebrations. The new rule limits the dugout from flooding home plate by restricting them to the warning track area, or 15 feet from the dug out. As an umpire, I'm a fan of this. This slightly speeds up the pace as you don't have to wait for the 25 guys on the team to clear the plate area and return to the dug out. The other major plus is not having 25 teammates that close to the opposing catcher, which is only asking for one of the young men to say something stupid and start a feud.