Manufacturers, coaches oppose NCAA proposal for heavier bats by 1998
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Manufacturers of aluminum bats and college baseball coaches oppose a proposed NCAA rule that would cost bat-makers and colleges about $100 million for a change they feel makes no sense.
The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee recently proposed a heavier weight-to-length ratio for aluminum bats be required in 1998. Committee secretary Bill Thurston said the change would be made for player safety and to improve ``the balance of the game″ which began using aluminum bats in 1974. ``It’s not a done deal, but it probably will be adopted,″ Thurston said.
As a result, college players in 1998 would swing a 33-inch bat weighing at least 31 ounces, in theory making it harder to swing and producing a slower bat speed. The current standard for a 33-inch bat is 28 ounces _ or five ounces less than a bat’s length.
Thurston said the committee was concerned about many games with winning teams scoring more than 20 runs, and seven-inning games lasting over four hours, among other considerations.
The Rules Committee said there is an imbalance favoring batters over pitchers in the college game. However, opponents of the bat change say a degree of correction already has occurred through competition. They cite statistics that since 1988 the overall college baseball batting average, runs-per-game and home run production have declined.
``The game is in good balance, and the competition level is fine,″ said Skip Bertman, the 1996 U.S. Olympic coach and also the coach at LSU. ``The game is more popular today than at any point in history. ... If anything, they should investigate the ball, because it may not be the same year after year.″
Thurston, baseball coach at Amherst University in Massachusetts, said Tuesday that the nine-member committee which proposed the change last July may formally adopt it in July of this year, or sooner. But it also could decide to postpone the change to 1999 if NCAA-sponsored testing is not conclusive.
A manufacturers’ association says that if the change is adopted, it should not be imposed before the year 2000 _ giving them the lead time necessary to design, produce and distribute the new bats.
``Kids and college programs have already invested in bats that will all of a sudden _ and for no good reason _ become obsolete,″ said Sebastian DiCasoli, executive director of the baseball and softball council of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
But Thurston says the manufacturers shouldn’t be shocked.
``They knew all along what we had in mind. We’ve been working with manufacturers on something like this since 1985,″ Thurston said of the goal to bring the more durable metal or composite bats close to wooden bats in exit speed, with a three percent difference the target.
Coaches say it would cost each college team at least $15,000 to make the changeover, discarding current aluminum bats which have another year or two of use remaining.
And manufacturers say heavier bats could turn out to be more dangerous, rather than safer _ because a heavier bat can send the ball at a pitcher or fielder at a greater speed.
Eighty percent of the 207 coaches in Divisions I, II and III of the NCAA responding to a Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association survey felt there had been no significant increase in college baseball injuries in the past 10 years, and nearly two-thirds said they believe the game is in ``good balance,″ the SGMA said.
``It just doesn’t make much sense to have `18- or 19-year-old kids swinging bats heavier than what the major leaguers use,″ said Marty Archer, vice president of Hillerich & Bradsby Co., manufacturer of the Louisville Slugger.
Jim Darby, senior vice president of Easton Sports in Los Angeles, another aluminum bat manufacturer, said: ``There is absolutely no reason for the NCAA to make any specification changes to aluminum bats. The NCAA’s own injury statistics prove college baseball to be the single safest men’s collegiate sport. Injuries have actually decreased since 1991.″
A Wallace Data Comp. Inc. survey for the SGMA showed that the injury rate for college baseball is about 3.4 for every 1,000 players, compared to 5.7 for basketball and nearly 10 for gymnastics, wrestling and football.