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The Dead Zone: Changes to game, CWS park won't happen soon for college baseball

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE -- College baseball fans shouldn't expect drastic changes to the rules or the ball at the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. 

 

With just three home runs and a combined batting average of .237 in this year's tournament, the eight teams combined to score 86 runs in 14 games, the lowest output at the CWS since the NCAA adopted the eight-team format in 1950. 

 

Before the tournament, the NCAA announced the associate director of the Baseball Coaches Association would be 37-year-old Damani Leech, who had been working in the NCAA compliance office. 

 

In his current role as director for baseball and football, Leech's primary responsibilities will be to manage the Division I Football Championship, to oversee postseason bowl licensing and external operations for the Men's College World Series, and to monitor sportsmanship and fan behavior as well as other issues. 

 

One of those issues could be to find a way to infuse more offense into the College World Series. Despite the lack of scoring punch in this year's event, Leech told the Omaha World-Herald that instant changes to the ballpark dimensions, the baseball, or the aluminum bats used won't happen any time soon.  

 

"I know it's the en vogue thing to just say, 'We just need to bring the fences in,' " Leech said to the Omaha World-Herald. "That's not a cheap or easy thing to do. You start digging up the field, you change the way the ballpark plays and you change the angle of the seats in the outfield. That is not a simple solution. 

 

"We recognize it and we see the stats, and the three home runs are pretty notable. On the flip side, there has been some tremendous pitching, and that's exciting to watch." 

 

Some current college head coaches bemoan the lack of power in the game due to the new BBCOR bats that limit the trampoline effect of the ball off the bat and, in turn, reduce scoring. LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri expressed concern about those issues when he arrived in Omaha with his team. 

 

"I just worry that it goes in the other direction because whether we want to admit it or not, we still are fighting for the fan bases and the support," Mainieri said. "I don't know what the answer is because I don't think the bats are going to change back, and we love the bats we use. But just across the board you'd like to see a little bit more offense, o anything that can get a little more offense into the game, I'd be in favor of." 

 

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee won't consider any rules changes until July 2014, so the 2015 season would be the soonest before a new ball could be used. 

 

"I can be OK with making the baseball a little hotter than it is now, but I'll tell you runs are always are going to be at a premium in Omaha because of the quality of the team's talent is so high," UCLA coach John Savage said Friday on The Tim Brando Show. 

 

In the "State of Baseball" press conference June 14 at TD Ameritrade Park, American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Dave Keilitz said the idea of the NCAA going to more of a pro ball with lower seams is complicated because Rawlings is the only manufacturer that makes a ball with the professional coefficient of restitution (COR). A number of conferences have contracts with Wilson and Diamond, but he said those manufacturers could switch to lower seams. 

 

"We don't want to change the ball and take it back to where we were when nobody liked it a few years ago, so that is a big factor," Keilitz said. "The factor is present contracts that conferences have, the legal actions of that, maybe even liability issues and then there are also financial impacts. The pro ball costs more than the college ball, so all of those things have to be taken into consideration." 

 

According to the NCAA's midseason report, Division I teams entered April averaging one home run about every three games, compared to about one per game in 2010. This year's midseason batting average (.270) and scoring (5.25 runs per team) were the lowest since 1973, the year before the aluminum bat arrived in college. 

 

MSU coach John Cohen said he "could be OK" with changes to the ball or the bats if he and his coaches were given time to re-evaluate how they would affect their program and coaching style.  

 

"If they told us we're going to a new ball and you have five years to adjust what type of team you're building and the talent you're recruiting, I could go with that," Cohen said. "However, what I wouldn't be for is preparing for a certain type of play and then being told months before a season that we're changing the rules or elements of the game."  

 

NCAA rules mandate balls must have a COR of no greater than .555, according to The Associated Press. The COR measures the bounciness at impact. The higher the COR, the greater the bounce. Balls in pro baseball have a maximum COR of .578. 

 

"We don't want to mess with the insides of the ball because that impacts things like exit speed, and that's a path we don't want to go down," Leech told the Omaha World-Herald. "Lowering the seams is intriguing, and it's something we'll continue to explore. We want to dig into the research a little bit more and find out what the impact is. When we find out the impact, we have to decide whether that's what we want the game to be about." 

 

 

 

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