The Southeastern Conference made headlines in May when it decided to experiment with a pitch clock and between-innings clock at its conference tournament. As a result, the conference now could be responsible for the NCAA finally doing something about the pace of play in most college baseball games.
The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee passed a proposal Friday to mandate a 20-second pitch clock between pitches with no runners on base, a 90-second clock between innings of non-televised games and a 108-second clock in televised games. The rules committee left open the door for negotiating more time during televised games.
The potential revolutionary change still must be passed by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, but it is highly likely the panel will approve the recommendation.
"The committee was pleased with the results of the clock experimentation last year,” said Gary Overton, chair of the committee and associate athletic director at East Carolina. "We believe that enforcing these time limits will keep the pace of the game moving without artificially altering the game."
The rules committee recommendation confirms what was widely believed the past couple of months – the pitch clock and between-inning clock at the SEC tournament was a huge success.
In 2009, the average SEC tournament game lasted 3 hours 17 minutes. In 2010, the average tournament game lasted 2 hours 43 minutes, and the longest game lasted 3 hours 17 minutes, equal to the average of the '09 games.
Although there was no violation of the new rules at the SEC tournament, penalties would have been as follows: A pitcher is given a warning the first time he fails to throw a pitch by the end of the 20-second clock, and a second infraction results in an automatic ball. A hitter stepping out of the box inside five seconds of the clock striking zero would first be given a warning, and a second infraction would result in an automatic strike. For the between-inning clock, a team failing to be ready by the time the clock strikes zero would be penalized with either a ball or strike.
Under the committee's proposal, an umpire other than the home plate umpire could keep time. The responsibility also could go to a qualified umpire not on the field or to what the committee described as a “qualified operator.” However, some coaches expressed a concern about who exactly would be a “qualified operator.” The operator would determine infractions if the school has a visible pitch clock in the outfield (the clock at the SEC tournament was above the right-center field wall).
"Anytime you put something in the game subject to arbitrary stuff like a qualified operator, you could run into some issues. Just look at basketball," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "The NCAA just needs to look at the enforcement of the rule and make sure it is done right. I don't really have a problem with the rule, but I also am fine with the way college baseball already is."
Plenty of coaches around the country will have opinions on the issue, but of the four coaches interviewed Friday, all agree the change likely would be good for college baseball. Some, though, believe it isn’t necessary.
Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan echoed what many SEC coaches said during the tournament in May – that the pitch and inning clock really didn't change much.
"I don't think it had much of an effect to be honest with you," O'Sullivan said. "It sped things up between innings and really didn't have much effect other than pushing the game along. I didn't really see it as that big of a deal. Every team has a different philosophy. You just have to go out there and adapt to what your opponent is doing. This rule will be the same way."
The rule will have the most effect on some West Coast teams, which are known to play a time-consuming brand of baseball. Interestingly, though, Arizona's Andy Lopez and UCLA's John Savage favor the rule.
Lopez believes the Pac-10 suffers greatly when it comes to the postseason because of lack of exposure. He believes that shortening games with a pitch clock could lead to the conference becoming a more marketable product for television.
"If you can show some television people that your games aren't 4 hours 15 minutes all the time, it could very well be worth it to have a pitch clock," he said. "You can't deny the statistics. We probably have some games right now that shouldn't be going on that long.”
Savage had a slightly different opinion. Though not against the pitch and between-inning clock, he believes other factors contribute to the pace of play.
"I would just have a tough time having a pitch clock visible at a ballpark and believe it's tough to have a quick game when you have so much coach involvement,” he said. “With that said, I'm not opposed to the mandate. Overall, I favor speeding up the pace of play.
"I will say this, though. I don't think it's the time between innings that makes college games last so long. I think it all boils down to more contact with an aluminum bat and the fact that so much strategy goes into games, with each game meaning so much to the RPI."
The popularity of the sport is at an all-time high and the NCAA is making more money than ever from the postseason. However, the NCAA wants baseball to become a more marketable television product. That would benefit everyone involved in the game.
The length of some college games has turned off some fans.
This is the NCAA's way of getting those fans back and adding more.
What once seemed like a terrible idea now seems genius.