National Collegiate Athletic Association
The NCAA News - News and Features
The NCAA News -- February 1, 1999
Bat issue goes extra innings in Divisions II and III
BY STEPHEN R. HAGWELL
The college baseball season normally begins with a number of certainties, especially those involving scheduling and opportunities for postseason competition.
But that is not the case in 1999 -- at least in Divisions II and III.
With practice and competition set to begin in earnest, the Divisions II and III baseball communities find themselves on unsure footing. Scheduled spring trips and nonconference games are in doubt, as are postseason opportunities for a number of conferences and teams.
"I think it's safe to say that this is not going to be a normal year," said Robert J. Hiegert, commissioner of the California Collegiate Athletic Association.
The cause of the uncertainty is the controversy regarding the safety of nonwood bats.
In August 1998, the NCAA Executive Committee adopted a rules change in nonwood bat specifications recommended by the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee that created a maximum batted-ball exit velocity of 93 miles per hour and new size and weight specifications of nonwood bats, effective August 1, 1999.
The rules committee, which recommended an effective date of January 1, 1999, felt the new bat specifications would make the game safer for all participants and provide a better competitive balance between offense and defense.
As a follow-up to the Executive Committee decision, the NCAA issued a memorandum urging members to "take all necessary steps to enhance the safety of your collegiate baseball players during the 1998-99 season."
On January 15, the Executive Committee, acting on differing recommendations from the Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet and the Divisions II and III Championships Committees, adopted new size and weight specifications for nonwood bats to be used in the 1999 NCAA championships.
The Division I cabinet adopted new size and weight specifications for nonwood bats to be used in the 1999 NCAA championships, while the Divisions II and III committees adopted the new specifications as well as the maximum batted-ball exit velocity requirement.
Before its January 15 decision, the Executive Committee learned that at least one bat manufacturer will provide indemnification for institutions using its bats.
While it appears that most Divisions II and III conferences and institutions will be using nonwood bats that meet the size and weight specifications adopted by the Executive Committee on January 15, there are several exceptions in each division.
Thus, the uncertainty.
A handful of conferences, including the Division III New Jersey Athletic and Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conferences, have at this time adopted strict bat performance standards that prohibit their members from using or competing against teams that use nonconforming bats in 1999.
In the case of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the adoption of such standards may apply to the entire state university system, which includes the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, a Division I member, and the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, a Division II member.
With regard to the New Jersey Athletic Conference's decision, the attorney general of the state of New Jersey has become involved in the process.
Similarly, a number of conferences, including the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and New York Collegiate Association from Division II, have adopted strict bat performance standards for conference play while allowing institutions to determine their respective nonconference policies.
It appears that all Division I conferences have adopted the new size and weight specifications.
"There may be some institutions in our conference who make decisions to go to wood only and end up playing only conference games," said Stephen L. Murray, commissioner of the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. "Our position is to err on the side of caution as much as we can without damaging our programs."
By adopting what essentially is a wood-only policy, conferences conceivably could be limiting their members to conference games and force them to cancel or forfeit nonconference games unless nonconference opponents are willing to play with wood or wood-composite bats. Further, conference members bound by such policies could be prohibited from postseason competition given the adoption of the nonwood bat standards for the 1999 championships.
"Certainly, there are going to be ramifications," said Gary F. Karner, commissioner of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. "We may lose nonconference games. I told our chancellors if we stay with this there's a likelihood that come May we may not be in the championships.
"We understand that the odds of serious injury occurring are extremely, extremely slim. We could play 10 to 20 years and never have a student-athlete seriously hurt by a batted ball. But at this point, with everything that's been put on table, we're not willing to take that chance."
To lessen the possible impact on the championships, the Division II Presidents Council at its January 10 meeting in San Antonio adopted noncontroversial legislation permitting waivers for institutions that might have to forfeit or cancel games if they opt not to compete against teams that will use bats that do not conform to the nonwood baseball bat performance standards, scheduled to be implemented August 1, 1999.
The waiver would be applicable to those institutions that have designated baseball as one of its four sports for males in order to meet minimum sports-sponsorship requirements. The Council agreed that these institutions should be provided with a waiver of this requirement if they fall below the minimum number of 24 games due to forfeitures or cancellations.
The Division III Membership Committee is considering whether it's appropriate to recommend similar legislation.
"Unless there's a change, it's beyond our decision," said Glenn Hedden, president of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, noting that each school within the conference has a deputy attorney general assigned by the attorney general's office of the state of New Jersey. "We don't feel we can go backward.
"Based on the August 28 memo, we felt the exit velocity was the biggest issue. How can we or anyone else take that out of the picture at this point? We feel we can't go backward and put our student-athletes -- primarily our pitchers -- at risk. We're not going to put our athletes in harm's way."
At first glance, the consequences of lack of uniformity would appear to be limited to those conferences; however, a number of teams play nearly two-thirds of their contests against nonconference foes.
Further, the lack of uniformity takes on greater significance considering the possibility that a region may not be represented at the championships if, for example, two conferences within a region adopt wood-only policies.
"What if 75 percent of teams decide they're not going to the NCAA championships? Then what happens?" asked Hedden. "Let's say an entire region -- the conferences that make up that region -- decide they're not going. Then what happens? It could happen and have some serious ramifications."
It is apparent that no one is quite certain how the 1999 campaign will shake out. In the meantime, conferences will continue to move forward in an effort to gain some clarity in what truly will be a memorable, if not chaotic, season.
"I don't know how this season is going to play out," said Hedden. "As far as we're concerned, we're going to play as many games as we can. We're going to put out the best teams that we can as in the past and play baseball. That's the bottom line."
Karner echoed those thoughts.
"At this point, we don't know what's going to happen," he said. "Everyone is waiting to see what everyone else is going to do, so a lot of people aren't doing anything.
"The best analogy I can use is that the music is playing and everybody is afraid that when it stops there won't be any chairs left."
Three-pronged for conference play; institutional choice for nonconference play: Great Lakes Valley Conference; New York Collegiate Athletic Conference; Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference; Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
No position: Pacific West Conference.
Position unknown or not yet determined: Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Lone Star Conference, Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Two-pronged standard for regular-season and postseason play: All other conferences (10 total).
*Compiled by Irish O'Reilly of Lewis University
> Division III
Of 18 Division III conferences reporting, 11 will use the two-pronged standard for the regular season and the postseason. Five will use the three-pronged standard for the regular season. Two are unsure.
From sweet spot to grip -- a chronology of metal-bat standards Mid 1970s
Metal bats approved for NCAA regular-season and championship play.
1985 Easton introduces the "Black Magic" bat. Hits and home runs increase significantly over previous year.
Summer 1994 The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee conducts a "bat summit" with metal-bat manufacturers. Bat manufacturers enter into a gentlemen's agreement not to make bats from this time forward that perform any faster than those made for the 1994 season. Manufacturers agree to use the "Brandt test," developed for measuring the speed of softball batted balls, to measure metal-bat performance.
1995-1997 The NCAA believes that bat performance is increasing, but manufacturers report their bats are meeting the Brandt standard.
Fall 1997 NCAA becomes aware of a letter written by Brandt in which he says his test does not accurately measure hardball bat speed. NCAA hires Trey Crisco to attempt to test metal bats. Crisco asks manufacturers to supply him with information about their testing. That information is not provided.
Spring 1998 Crisco submits a report saying he has been unable to test bats and that more bat testing needs to be done. He requests additional NCAA funding to do so.
ESPN and Fox air specials about metal bats.
May 1998 NCAA says it supports the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association's (SGMA) decision to finance field testing of metal bats.
Record established for hits and home runs during College World Series.
July 1998 NCAA joins with the National Federation of State High School Associations to conduct another "bat summit." On the day before the summit is to begin, Steve Baum, a maker of composite wood bats, sues the NCAA, the SGMA and three metal-bat manufacturers, alleging they unlawfully conspired to not make metal-bat rules more restrictive to keep Baum from selling his wood bat.
At the summit, a former bat designer of Hillerich & Bradsby says the NCAA has been misled by metal-bat manufacturers about testing issues. A consensus develops that the Baum "hitting machine," developed by Steve Baum, is the best device to test balls in a lab situation. Major League Baseball offers to purchase the one-of-a-kind machine for the NCAA.
Also, scientists at the summit agree that .4 seconds are necessary for a pitcher to react to a batted ball.
Mid to late July 1998 NCAA Baseball Rules Committee assesses scientific data and develops new standards that will make metal bats perform more like wood bats to meet three mandates for rules-making: (1) minimize risk; (2) maintain the proper balance of offense and defense; (3) preserve the integrity of the game. The rules committee votes to recommend that by January 1, 1999, metal bats must meet the following standards: (1) -3 weight/length differential; (2) 25/8-inch barrel diameter; (3) batted ball exit speed of 94 mph or less. Standards for wood bats remain unchanged.
Early August 1998 Divisions I, II and III Championships Cabinet/Committees vote on the Baseball Rules Committee recommendation. All vote for the new rule, but Division III votes to delay implementation until August 1, 1999. The difference among divisions sends the issue to the Executive Committee. Easton files suit against the NCAA the day before the Executive Committee is to meet, alleging the NCAA conspired with Steve Baum and others to change the bat rule to favor Baum and prevent it from selling metal bats and maintaining its share of the market. The Executive Committee votes to delay implementation of the bat rule until August 1, 1999, to allow new bats to be developed and tested. The Executive Committee instructs the NCAA staff to send a letter to members advising them of safety concerns regarding existing bats.
Mid August 1998 The NCAA begins efforts to get Major League Baseball to purchase a Baum hitting machine for testing of bats. The testing will take place at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Eventually, Rawlings will share the cost of the machine with Major League Baseball.
September to mid December 1998 Major League Baseball, Rawlings, Baum and the Massachusetts-Lowell lab negotiate a license agreement for the lab to use the proposed new Baum hitting machine. Baum refuses to allow testing on his existing machine until license agreement is signed and he has received payment. The NCAA is in regular contact with Major League Baseball, encouraging a deal to be struck. Baum finally allows some wood bat testing to occur by an independent researcher but refuses to allow him to share his results until license agreement is signed and he is paid.
November 1998 The Division I Baseball Committee votes to go to the new bat standard for 1999 Division I Baseball Championship.
Mid December 1998 The three Championships Cabinet/Committees meet by phone. Divisions II and III vote for the new standard for their championships; Division I votes for implementing only two prongs of the new standard, deleting the velocity of the batted-ball prong of the standard.
Late December 1998 The license agreement is signed and Baum is paid. Results of -3 wood-bat testing are shared with NCAA. All tested under 94 mph.
Early January 1999 NCAA invited to observe metal-bat field-testing sponsored by SGMA to be conducted late February 1999.
January 15, 1999 NCAA Executive Committee establishes the two-pronged (diameter and weight-to-length difference) standard for Divisions I, II and III Baseball Championships for 1999. It also agrees to create a panel of independent experts to study risk and game integrity issues in college baseball, with a report to be provided by July 1.