"Going .... Going .... GONE !" That familiar phrase, used by announcers for years, will not be heard as much on college baseball fields this spring. The reason - the NCAA has implemented a new rule designed to reduce the number of homeruns.
Basically what the NCAA has done is to tone down the bats to make them perform more like wood. In addition the sweet spot has been reduced from 22 inches to a little more than five inches.
The result reported by some program's fall ball practices, has been a 30 - 40 feet shorter distance on long balls. Thirty feet can be a big difference in going over the wall or dropping short at the warning track for a fly ball out.
I witnessed this myself at last weekend's opening tournament at Plainsman Park. I saw balls hit off the wall or caught at the warning track that would have gone out of the park in 2010. There were only two homeruns hit in the six games played at Sanford Stadium.
Although there has been a lot written to suggest the reasoning behind the change was for safety, a quote from the NCAA letter to bat manufacturers announcing the change reveals the primary purpose was to lower offensive numbers.
"NCAA Division I baseball statistics indicate increasing offensive performance, particularly in home runs, and runs scored, and the (Rules) committee believes this is due, in large part, to the kind of bats in use today."
The NCAA started messing around with bat performance after the 1998 season which saw offensive season records set, as well as the College Worlds Series ending with USC defeating Arizona 21-14.
There have been at least four different rule changes since that season, aimed at reducing offensive numbers. Some baseball purist think this is a good thing. However, the thing that has set college ball apart from the pros has been the excitement of high scoring games and late inning homerun rallies.
Most college coaches have expressed dismay at the new changes. But some (mostly old pitchers) have been more open to the idea of the move that is bound to aid pitchers.
University of Miami coach Jim Morris was quoted as saying that the previous NCAA changes were good, but he doesn't think so this time around. He said," I think the bats were too hot in the 90's, but I think they were pretty good last year." Morris is also concerned the reduction in power across the country will hurt attendance. "Fans enjoy seeing homeruns."
LSU Coach Paul Mainieri said, "I feel we've taken this too far. I'm very concerned that we are going to create the type of game that is not very appealing to our fans. One of the things that separates college ball from the majors is we have more offense, and that gives us a niche. If we have a lot of 3-1, 2-1 games, I'm worried how the fans will react."
Auburn's John Pawlowski who's Tigers led the nation in homeruns last year, has said his players liked using last year's bats. "But (the new bats) are what we have to use, so we have to be prepared,"
Pawlowski may be more prepared than some since he led the College of Charleston in to the NCAA Tournament playing "small ball" before he arrived at Auburn.
But as a fan, I'm not sure I'm ready to see power hitters having to lay down sacrifice bunts in order to move a runner over on the bases. Something doesn't seem right about that. The popularity of college baseball has been built on offense not pitching.
Besides, pitchers have always had the upper hand and now the NCAA has given them a huge gift. Even the best batters using the old bats only got hits 30-40% of the time.
There is an old baseball axiom that says, "Good pitching always beats good hitting." Well with the new bats you can now take that to the third power. And that old familiar phrase used by announcers will be replaced by,
"Going .... Going .... CAUGHT !"