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NCAA approves changes to softball illegal pitch, obstruction rules

Allowing the pitcher to have both feet off the ground is one of several rule changes approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel

Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

It will no longer be illegal for softball pitchers to have both feet off the ground at the same time according to changes approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel. The illegal pitch rule was one of several changes adopted by the panel for the 2023-24 season. Others include changes to the obstruction rule, video replay, and park configuration for new fields.

Beginning with the upcoming season, a pitcher is still prohibited from replanting her foot after pushing off the rubber. However, she can lift both off the ground because the panel determined that no advantage is gained by having both feet in the air while delivering a pitch.

Other rule changes also impact the pitcher. She will now have five fewer seconds to deliver the ball. Under the new rules, the pitch clock will be reduced from 25 seconds to 20 seconds from the time the pitcher receives the ball. The batter must still be ready to hit no more than 10 seconds after the pitcher receives the ball.

The changes in the obstruction rule prohibit a defensive player who does not have the ball from blocking any part of the leading edge of the four bases or otherwise keeping the runner from advancing or returning to a base. It will not be obstruction if the defender has the ball or is making a legitimate play on a thrown ball. It will also not be obstruction if the umpire determines that the runner would have been out anyway.

The biggest facet of video replay expansion is likely going to be the expansion of home run reviews. Now, all home runs can be reviewed. In addition, runners leaving early on a tag-up or before a pitch is thrown, or runners missing a base, can now be reviewed if the coach challenges the play. All determinations of whether a ball was caught or not can be reviewed, as will whether batters are hit by pitches.

The changes to catch/no catch and home run reviews are significant because of the underlying implications. In the past, reviews that could cause an umpire to have to determine where to place baserunners were avoided and simply allowed to stand. In the case of overruling a call of a caught fly ball, the umpires would have to try to determine how far the batter and any baserunners would have advanced.

The panel also made a move to standardize ballpark size. Going forward, fences in left and right fields must have a distance of at least 200 feet.