NCAA: Nine Innings or None

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.7, September 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1307/bbnineinnings.htm

Central Missouri State University Head Coach Darin Hendrickson was in the middle of his team’s spring trip in Florida when he first heard the news. The games being played that week would not count because they were only seven innings long, not nine, as teams tried to play as many games against as many opponents as possible.

What started as a rumble exploded when the NCAA Division III Championships Committee issued a memorandum Feb. 24 reminding member schools that only nine-inning games could be reported to the committee for championship selection purposes. CMSU is in Division II, but the same rule applies to Divisions I and III.

“I was shocked when I first heard about it,” says Hendrickson. “The spring trip we were on invites seven-inning games due to travel constraints and field availability. Along with many other coaches, I’ve been playing seven-inning games on spring trips in order to get games in since the beginning of time.”

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee sent out its own memo reiterating the rule about seven-inning games. It states that games are nine innings long, except for doubleheaders, which are defined as two nine-inning games, two seven-inning games, or one nine- and one seven-inning game played against the same team within 30 minutes of each other. Therefore, seven-inning games played against different teams could not count toward teams’ records even if they started within a half hour of each other. Nor could two games against the same team count if there were more than 30 minutes in between.

Coaches entered panic mode. Schools looked back at their early-season spring tournaments and deleted games from their records. Coaches were counting up the rest of the season’s schedule to make sure they had enough games scheduled. And the idea set in that games cut short due to school or conference-wide travel curfew policies could constitute a rescheduling nightmare.

“This just came to a head at the wrong time,” says Hendrickson. “I agree with the rule. I’m definitely an advocate of the nine-inning game. But the timing and clarification were poor.”

The NCAA sent out a third memo in April stating that the early-season seven-inning games already completed in 2005 would count toward team records, but any games played after April 18 must meet the requirements of a full game. “In the best interest of the players and the coaches, we had another vote, and the people on the committee felt that the most prudent thing was to give everybody a pass this year and start fresh next season,” says Chris McKnight, Chair of the Baseball Rules Committee and Associate Athletic Director and Head Coach at Frostburg State University.

Coaches of northern schools are probably at the biggest disadvantage in the sudden enforcement of a rule that had gone overlooked. St. John Fisher College Head Coach Dan Pepicelli says the sole reason for his team’s annual spring break trip to Florida is to play as many games as possible while its home field in upstate New York is still blanketed in snow.

“Because we’re located in Rochester, N.Y., we almost never get in enough games,” says Pepicelli. “When we take these Florida trips, we schedule doubleheaders, but all it takes is one rain date and everyone’s scrambling to get their games in.”

Hendrickson says he’s been in similar situations where multiple teams were scheduled to play games over three days and if the forecast said rain on the third day, all the coaches agreed to squeeze the games into two days, playing seven-inning doubleheaders against two opponents. These scenarios won’t be an option next season.

When CMSU takes its spring trip to Savannah, Ga., in March, the Mules will play nine-inning games each day for a week, with no scheduled doubleheaders. And Pepicelli and other northern schools are just hoping their early season doubleheaders in Florida don’t get rained out, or it could mean a loss of games. A longer spring trip is not feasible for most teams due to the extra costs associated with lodging and the need to return to campus.

“It won’t be as big of an issue for 2006 as it was this year,” says Pepicelli. “Now we know in advance and can work around it.”