NFHS Adds Designated Player Rule

By Staff

Coaching Management, 11.7, October 2003, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1107/bbnfhsrule.htm

High school scorekeepers may be looking for a raise next spring as the designated player rule comes to high school softball. The rule will provide coaches with extra flexibility in managing their lineups while also giving scorekeepers and umpires more changes to track.

Used in NCAA and ASA softball for many years, the change was adopted by the NFHS Softball Rules Committee during its annual meeting in July. It expands on the idea of the designated hitter rule, which it replaces. When filling out the lineup card before the game, a coach can list one player in the lineup who will not take a defensive position at the beginning of the game. This is the designated player. If using the designated player, the coach must also list a 10th player, known as the FLEX player, who will play defense and have her spot in the batting order taken by the designated player.

The differences between the designated player rule and the designated hitter rule start once the game starts. The DH was not allowed to play defense without losing the role of DH, but the DP can play defense for any player, except the FLEX player listed in the 10th position of the lineup, without the replaced player leaving the lineup. Thus both the DP and the FLEX can be in the game on defense at the same time.

If the DP replaces the FLEX player on defense, the FLEX player is removed from the game, and the team will continue with a nine-player lineup. The DP can be replaced later on defense (either by a substitute or through re-entry of the original FLEX player) and remain in the lineup as the DP, making 10 players active again.

The FLEX player is also allowed to bat, but only in place of the DP. The DP would then have to use her one re-entry, if available, to get back into the game. Both the starting DP and FLEX have the same re-entry rights as other starters.

The new rules allow coaches to use more players in a game for a couple of reasons. First, taking the DP out of the game does not eliminate it, as happened with the DH rule. After taking the DP out of the game and playing with only nine players, coaches can reinsert someone as the DP and continue with a 10-player line up.

Second, the DP can play defense while serving as the DP. This allows a coach to put a player out on the field in the late stages of the game without giving up DP privileges. Under the DH rule, once a player was named the DH, she could not enter the game on defense.

Five state high school associations—Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania—used the designated player last season on an experimental basis. Their positive feedback led to full implementation of the rule in 2004.

“I was very happy with the rule,” says Jennie Herrenbruck, Head Softball Coach at Tecumseh High School in Lynnville, Ind. “With the number of girls I have on the team, it presented more opportunities to get more girls some playing time.”

Herrenbruck also used the rule to allow players a few minutes to regroup if they had a bad inning in the field or at the plate by having the DP take over in the field. “It can give them a chance to step out of the game and refocus while someone else plays their position without having to use a substitute and their one re-entry,” she says. “Then when you put them back in, they’re ready to play.”

Although the rule seemed a little confusing at first, Herrenbruck found that most coaches caught on after a few games. “There’s a lot there in terms of knowing if this girl can play in this spot and who can hit for who and trying to read through all the possibilities,” she says. “We talked about it during the preseason rules meeting, and then we used it in our second game.”

The NFHS will also adopt the new ASA bat standards, which take effect Jan. 1, 2004. (See “NCAA Adopts New ASA Bat Standards” on page XX.) Any bats used in games will need to meet the 2004 ASA standard, but will not have to carry a 2004 certification sticker.

For a full list of the NFHS rules changes for 2004, go to www.nfhs.com/rules-softball.htm.