Beyond the ACCtion: Umpires May Take A Second Look

But don’t expect it, as replay doesn’t figure to drastically affect ACC Championship

Special to by David Teel

NCAA rules ACC can implement experimental instant replay rule

If past indeed is prologue, then neither competitors, spectators nor television viewers will notice the replay review system new to this year’s ACC Baseball Championship.

Designed to check only a few calls, replay debuted for NCAA baseball at the 2012 College World Series and returned to the Omaha, Neb., event last season. Umpires did not review any decisions in either tournament.

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee approved several conferences bringing replay to their 2014 tournaments.

 “I’ve been with the ACC 25 years,” said Tony Thompson, the league’s supervisor of umpires. “Within recent years we have had nothing (in the conference tournament) that would have prompted us to go to replay.”

The reviewable calls are:

  • Is an apparent home run fair or foul?
  • Did the ball leave the park for a home run or remain in-play for a ground-rule double?
  • Did spectator interference affect a potential home run?
  • Was a ball that touched the ground beyond first or third base, and was called foul, in fact fair?

Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, who has twice guided the Cavaliers to the College World Series, welcomes the addition.

“We should be doing whatever they’re doing in Omaha,” he said. “Our goal, every team in our league’s goal, is to get to Omaha. You might as well get used to the way it’s going to be there.”

There is no replay official or challenge process. The crew chief determines whether replay is needed, and if so, he and the calling umpire will go to an off-field TV monitor.

Replay for “the regular season is an impossibility because not every game is televised,” Thompson said. “In order to get the replay correct, then you need consistent angles from the same cameras at every game, and that’s what we have in the (ACC) tournament. Every game is televised.”

Increased television exposure has been a cornerstone of college baseball’s increasing popularity, but an overwhelming majority of coaches have concluded that a well-intended 2011 adjustment to the game’s aluminum bats threatens that progress.

Safety concerns prompted by the speed of batted balls led the NCAA to change the specs of college baseball’s aluminum bats. But since, home runs, scoring and batting averages have plunged to levels not seen since the wooden-bat era of the mid-1970s.

To counter the trend, the NCAA has approved for 2015 a new ball with flat seams that is similar to MLB’s. The flat-seam ball travels farther and makes throwing a breaking pitch more difficult.

Clemson’s Jack Leggett was among the coaches leading the campaign for the new ball.  

"It's a good start to move to the new baseball,” Leggett said. “The seams make a big difference in the flight of the ball. Hopefully, we'll add more life back to the offensive side of the game, which college baseball sorely needs.”
Leggett, however, hopes this is only the beginning.  

“We also have to do something to the ball itself, including the core hardness,” Leggett said.  “The most logical and sensible step is to go to the minor league ball. Players will be using it after college and it should create more life into the game, but at the same time won't make things crazy. 

“College baseball needs more excitement offensively if we're to continue to draw big crowds and keep fans interested in the game."

Virginia’s O’Connor was among the 87 percent who approved of the measure for changing the baseball in a national survey of the American Baseball Coaches Association.      

“I’m a pitching guy,” said O’Connor, who pitched at Creighton in the early ’90s. “But I’m an advocate of, when you take a swing and you barrel a ball up and you get it good, it should be out of the ballpark.”

Home runs used to be a staple of the College World Series — the tournament averaged 33 per year from 2002-11, according to the Associated Press. Last season, teams hit three home runs in 16 CWS games, the fewest since 1966.

That trend has been evident during regular-season play as well, with national team batting averages dipping into the mid-.270s and average run production dropping to about 5.3.

“Certainly I think there will be an adjustment period for the pitchers,” O’Connor said. “When you have raised seams, it’s a little easier to throw breaking balls … I believe the adjustment period will be pretty quick.

“I just think when we dialed the bats back … we went too far. This is a way to hopefully get a little bit of (offense) back. We’ll see if it really works.”