NFHS Rules Focus on Safety

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.9, October 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1409/bbnfhssafety.htm

Over the past year, several high school rules have either been put in place or clarified to improve safety. At the beginning of last season, the NFHS made facemasks a requirement for batters and base runners, and recently clarified the right-of-way rule on loose balls for the 2007 rule book. Also in 2006, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) moved the pitching plate three feet further away from home plate and reported to the NFHS that the experimental change went even better than expected.

Matt Lewis, Head Softball Coach and Athletic Director at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, Fla., points to three advantages of the pitching-plate move. “First of all, it’s safer for pitchers,” he says. “It also means there are no longer dominant pitchers completely controlling a game. And the new distance, 43 feet, is where NCAA schools play, so it will help get these girls ready for the next level.”

Florida will ask the NFHS for permission to continue its experiment for another year, but on the national level, the federation remains skeptical. “There’s no hard evidence the additional three feet makes the game significantly safer,” says Ralph Swearngin, Executive Director of the Georgia High School Association and Chairperson of the NFHS Softball Rules Committee. “It’s also possible that the really good pitchers would benefit from an extra three feet and the mediocre and poor pitchers would be negatively affected.”

While the plate will stay put for now, one nationwide change this year is the revision of rules that dictate who has the right of way—the base runner or the defender—on a non-controlled ball. “We’ve always had interference and obstruction rules that were clearly defined on a fielded ball,” says Mary Struckhoff, NFHS Assistant Director and liaison to the Softball Rules Committee. “But nobody really knew what to do if a fielder deflected the ball without securing it. It was being enforced differently across the country.”

The language in the 2007 rule book essentially says the defender is protected on the first play of a live ball, but if the defender’s first play is misplayed, then the burden for avoiding a collision is shared by the defender. “There is no such thing as incidental contact in softball,” Swearngin says. “Baseball allows for it, but in softball, if there is contact between the fielder and runner, either obstruction or interference will be called.”

One season after the NFHS began requiring NOCSAE-approved facemasks, most states are making progress in getting their teams outfitted. “We played a number of games, especially early on last season, in which only one team had legal helmets,” says Jim Meyerhoff, Assistant Executive Director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. “We had to share helmets just to get through the game.”

Meyerhoff says the athletes are adjusting well, since many play on club teams that follow Amateur Softball Association rules, which made facemasks mandatory in 2005. Cost hasn’t been much of an issue either. “Batting helmets aren’t replaced every year, but you don’t want to keep them too long either,” he says. “The additional cost of the facemask didn’t exponentially increase replacement costs.”

For more information on NFHS rules for 2006-07, go to: www.nfhs.org, click on “Sports & Rules Information” and “Softball.”