NCAA Memo on Illegal Pitches



The NCAA Rules Committee issued the following advisory to coaches et al on March 29:

March 29, 2010

TO: 2010 NCAA Divisions I Head Softball Coaches, Directors of Athletics, and Senior Woman Administrators of NCAA institutions that sponsor Division I Softball.

Conference Commissioners, Senior Woman Administrators, and Umpire Coordinators.

FROM: Dee Abrahamson

NCAA Softball Secretary Rules Editor.

Kathy Strahm

National Coordinator, Softball Umpire Improvement Program.

SUBJECT: Information Regarding Pitching Rules.

We want to clarify recent concerns in the softball community surrounding the interpretation of illegal pitches. During the 2010 softball season, some have seen a rise in the number of illegal pitches called by collegiate umpires and inquired about rule changes and or application of the rule. The only change to the pitching rule is Rule, pitcher’s foot position to take the signal.

In response to concerns following the 2009 Women’s College World Series and responses to a National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) survey regarding the inconsistent and lack of enforcement of the pitching rule, the Softball Umpire Improvement Program (SUIP) placed a priority on the consistent enforcement of all parts of the pitching rules (Rules 10.2-10.6). The intent was to raise the level of integrity, fairness, accuracy and consistency by improving umpire education in order to enforce the rules established for the game without excuses or misunderstandings.

At the same time the SUIP set their priorities, the NCAA Softball Rules Committee identified points of emphasis that will be the focus during the two-year rules cycle. For the 2010 and 2011 cycle, the NCAA Softball Rules Committee identified 1) arguing balls and strikes; 2) pitcher’s lane; 3) flow of the game; and 4) sportsmanship as the four points of emphasis. (Explanations of these points of emphasis can be found on pages 6 and 7 of the 2010 and 2011NCAA MEMORANDUM March 29, 2010 Page No. 2 _________

NCAA Softball Rules Book). Neither the SUIP nor NCAA Softball Rules Committee anticipated their respective actions would result in the unintended consequence of conflict between improved consistency in enforcing the pitching rules and improving the flow of the game.

Therefore, in an effort to maintain this point of emphasis and diminish the unintended consequences, it has been determined that in applying the pitching rules (Rules 10.2-10.6), pitchers should be given the benefit of the doubt when executing a legal pitch.

The expectation is that coaches will continue to coach pitchers in a manner that is in compliance with the pitching rules and umpires will call illegal pitches in the spirit of fair and equitable competition but also in pursuit of maintaining the flow of the game. Specifically, umpires are asked to take the approach that a pitch is legal until the pitcher proves otherwise by engaging in any movement not in compliance with the pitching rules. Again, umpires need to enforce the pitching rules and yet, give pitchers the benefit of the doubt if there is any question of legality.

Finally, in an effort to provide the same information to coaches and umpires, the illegal pitches video shared with subscribing umpires via the SUIP Central Hub will be made available to coaches and non-subscribing umpires in front of the pay wall on the SUIP Central Hub. It will also be available via link on the NCAA softball website and NFCA website. Coaches and umpires are encouraged to view the video to clarify understanding of the specifics of an illegal pitch.

Thank you for your cooperation and assistance in disseminating this information to all interested parties and good luck in the remainder of your season. We look forward to seeing you in Oklahoma City.


cc: NCAA Division I Softball Committee

Ed Note:

For those who haven’t followed this issue, there was an outbreak of illegal pitch calls at the Cathedral City tournament in Palm Springs, which literally reached epidemic proportions at the Judy Garman Classic in Fullerton two weeks later.  There was also a flurry of such calls in various individual games; SPY heard many such complaints from SEC and other coaches.

At the Garman, there were 42 illegal pitch calls which affected the course of the game, ie, calls which advanced a runner, sometimes to score – as opposed to calls during an at-bat.  There were 33 calls against one pitcher in a single game.  While a member of the national umpire observation team came to the press box at Fullerton, stoutly declaring that umpires were just doing their job and were not affecting play, during his stay in the box there were several such calls which in fact did affect play.  The uproar over the intensity/frequency of the calls led to three coaches, all recognized among the best in the business, being ejected.  SPY agreed with Deb Hartwig, a tournament official, that umpires should focus on the spirit of the NCAA rule, ie, does the pitcher’s motion give her an advantage in violation of the rule, does she step forward, etc.

Thankfully, NCAA has heard the protests.  The memo should dampen down the frequency of such calls.  Note that some umpires at Garman also complained that they felt pressure from NCAA to apply the rule more vigorously, like they did the obstruction/interference rule a few seasons ago.

6 thoughts on “NCAA Memo on Illegal Pitches



  2. G. Helton

    After watching the unfortunate calls during the 2010 WCWS (Florida and Arizona) I am beginning to believe that no one knows what an illegal pitch is and why we have an illegal pitch rule. What are we supposed to tell our young pitchers? “Do not explode/push-off off the rubber” and give the batter the advantage. After all, the batter is probably using a “Hot Bat” or a technological enhanced composite bat. Let me clarify that I’m not opposed to composite bats. I believe that the answer is, let the pitcher explode/push-off off the rubber as long as she doesn’t re-plant and push off again after the initial explosion/push-off. Re-planting constitutes a “crowhop” just like an infielder “crowhops” to throw the ball harder once he/she fields the ball. The explosion/push-off must be off the rubber. Nothing is being called when a pitcher begins the wind-up with her heel on the rubber and slides her foot off the rubber about 1 foot as she comes forward to the release point then pushes off. This gives the pitcher an advantage because she ends up pushing-off at approximately 42 feet from the batter instead of 43 feet and it happens a lot in high school softball. What does it matter if the pitchers begin at 43 feet from the batter and explode/push-off the rubber and the feet come off the ground at the same time? If the feet are off the ground simultaneously, she can’t push-off again to gain an unfair advantage plus she is able to use her forward momentum to hurl the ball fast enough to perhaps strike out the batter using a composite bat.

  3. k.douglas

    The continuing problem of illegal pitches is that these girls have played Junior Olympic level softball for about 5-6 years and traveled all over the country doing so—–even to ASA Gold Nationals and above—never being called on this , only to arrive in College and see it ruin their college pitching career—they suddenly have to relearn something they have been doing since they were 9 or 10 years old! The really sad part is that they have mimicked thier heroes—-the other college players that have gone before them who never had to deal with anything like this! Those players have been doing the same thing for years and went on to carry out successful collegiate careers and beyond—-where is the justice in that! I say leave them alone—the hot bats and the advantage that slappers have when they run out of the box should be things that get looked at !!!!

  4. Brian Keill

    Sadly, the pressure from some prominent coaches prompted this weak and vague statement and position to be published.
    If everyone wants to play on a level playing field, these rules need to be enforced.
    What’s wrong with 42 illegal pitches being called? It’s that the pitcher refused to make an adjustment and the umpires kept enforcing the rule book. IS the umpire ruining the game by enforcing the rules?

    This statement and position just sets back the game to a state of confusion. It puts the umpires in a position to be afraid to enforce the rules. No umpire wants controversy, BUT their job is to enforce ALL of the rules, not just the ones that are convenient. IF the rules are inconvenient, then lobby to change them. THERE ARE LEGAL PITCHERS OUT THERE, at ALL levels. But there are somewhere between 30-50% that continue to break the rules and G A I N an advantage. NO question, a leap or crow hop give THAT pitcher an advantage. When that pitcher is FORCED to pitch by the rules and KEEP her pivot foot in contact with the ground, SHE loses MPH off her pitch.

    Now, I agree it was UNFORTUNATE to LET those pitchers pitch ILLEGALLY their whole life in REC,High School, Travel, and regular season NCAA, and then be called in the PLAYOFFS, but the answer isn’t to make a VAGUE statement about enforcing the rules to confuse (and GIVE A PASS to) umpires at all levels so they can fall back on a statement like, “give the benefit of the doubt”. What a loophole that is.

    The answer is to ENCOURAGE umpires AT ALL LEVELS, ESPECIALLY at REC, High School, Travel, to CALL ILLEGAL PITCHES! Shame on Coaches, Pitching Coaches, and Parents, who let it go, (or at worst, teach it!) so long that the pitcher has illegal pitches engrained in her delivery. It needs to be stopped at the lowest levels. Sadly, I’ve heard so many times the excuses by umpires, “Oh, she isn’t gaining an advantage, Oh at this level what difference does it make?, Oh it’s not that noticeable, Oh everyone is illegal, Oh she’s been pitching that way all year, Oh if others don’t call it then I’m not going to.” All shameful disregard for their responsibility.
    So what’s the REC,HS,Travel umpire supposed to do when a pitcher is illegal. The answer simply is ENFORCE THE RULES. Learn how to recognize a crow hop (which comes down to a stutter step versus a smooth drag [simple]) and a leap (which means if there’s AIR, it’s illegal [simple]).
    WHAT I SEE regularly, is that when a pitcher is illegal and called, 9 times out of ten she already knows what to do to correct it, and does, yet she is less effective because she’s forced to keep her foot on the ground, or make her push (and smooth drag) from the pitching plate.
    Shame on anyone who endorses ‘looking the other way’ to let up to 1/2 the pitchers gain an advantage over the large number of pitchers who DO IT RIGHT and pitch legally.
    IF people are so dead set on letting pitchers crow hop and leap, then they should spend their time lobbying to get rid of those rules in the rule book. In my opinion that would be sad because it would even further allow the game to be dominated by pitchers and continue to allow that one position to be the major, if not only, factor in fastpitch softball. That’s bad for the game and for its future.

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