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NCAA softball rules committee proposes sweeping changes, including relaxing illegal pitch rules

arizona-wildcats-softball-recruiting-addyson-shephard-texas-2025-commitment-rylie-holder Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The inconsistency around enforcement of illegal pitches has been the bane of NCAA softball fans, coaches, and players for years. The NCAA Softball Rules Committee has recommended addressing that by making fewer pitches eligible for an illegal pitch ruling. It was one of several changes suggested on Friday that could go into effect next season.

The new rule would allow pitchers to lift both feet off the ground at the same time, in effect leaping towards the plate without dragging the toe of the back foot. The rule change would not allow the pitcher to replant and push off a second time. That would remain an illegal pitch under the new rule.

The proposal has been met with differing levels of support by the softball community. Texas A&M and softball broadcasting great Amanda Scarborough commented, “Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD.”

That thought was backed up by former Arizona great and current Fullerton pitching coach Danielle O’Toole, who acknowledged that there were positives about the possible change but there were also drawbacks.

One former Arizona star had no such hesitations. Kenzie Fowler was 100 percent behind the change.

Fowler’s feelings are understandable. In 2010, she was called for eight illegal pitches in a Women’s College World Series game against Tennessee. Three of those were in the first at-bat. The Vols went on to win that game 9-0.

The proposed rules would reduce the time allowed between pitches from 25 seconds to 20 seconds after the pitcher receives the ball. In addition, the batter must be ready to hit within 10 seconds of the pitcher receiving the ball. Teams can also choose to put an action clock on the field, but they are not required to do so.

In addition to the pitching changes, the rules committee has suggested changes to the obstruction rule, video replay, and park dimensions, among other things.

The biggest change to the obstruction rule would be leaving it to the umpire to decide if the runner was “clearly” going to be out anyway. In this case, there would be no obstruction. Obstruction would also not be called if the defender was in possession of the ball or is making a legitimate movement towards a thrown ball.

Video review would be expanded. Perhaps the biggest change has to do with dead balls. Under the current rules, dead ball plays cannot be reviewed. Under the proposed new rules, that restriction would disappear.

Another big change that is related to the dead ball change is that all home runs can be reviewed. Under the current rules, a fair/foul play can be reviewed unless it was a home run over the height of the foul pole. This cost Arizona a possible home run in a 2022 postseason game, although the Wildcats still advanced to the WCWS.

In addition, current rules do not allow a review to take place if the call on the field is home run. The thought process behind this is that it requires the umpires to place runners on the bases if they overturn the home run call.

The catch/no-catch ruling could be reviewed under any circumstances if the new rules are adopted. Under existing rules, if there are runners on base, a no-catch call on the field can only be reviewed if overturning the call would result in the third out.

The proposal also includes a host of additional changes according to the NCAA’s press release:

  • Allowing the use of a double first base on the field to help prevent collisions. This would be a permanent change after the double first base was allowed on an experimental basis in 2022-23.
  • Requiring that newly constructed fields have a fence distance in left and right fields of 200 feet.
  • Removing the one-quarter-inch bat knob protrusion requirement so bats with tapered, flared, or cone handles can be used.
  • Prohibiting assistant coaches from leaving the dugout or bullpen area to appeal, question, or argue any play on the field.
  • Allowing one-way communication devices to be used during play.
  • Allowing batters to use either on-deck circle.
  • Allowing the pitcher to throw to any base one time during warmups.
  • Allowing a postgame review of ejections that include a suspension.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel will meet on Aug. 10 to discuss the proposed changes. The panel must approve any changes before they can go into effect.