Upon perusing the internets for nothing in particular, I came upon this little article about a big change in college baseball. Aside from featuring a picture of Beau Amaral (former Mariner Rich Amaral's son), it talked about significant changes to the bats in college baseball.
Aluminum is not gone, but it is gone as we know it. There are now regulations on just how efficient the kinetic energy transfer can be. In other words, college bats have to absorb contact with baseball more like a wood bat does, starting this year.
Not surprisingly, college hitters aren't thrilled with the change. Given how much the article focuses on reactions from hitters, I have a hunch that the writer isn't thrilled either. However, this is fantastic news for college baseball, and I hope it has an even farther reaching impact in sports.
Baseball bat companies market their bats to hitters. So, it is obvious why all of their time and resources are spent trying to figure out how to make bats that maximize how hard a hitter can hit the ball. Thanks to strength and conditioning on the player's end, and advancing technology on the equipment end, all sort of hitters were putting up gaudy numbers.
More importantly, gaudy numbers speak to lots of scorched line drives. With thousands of innings logged on college diamonds across the country every weekend, I cringed at the thought of someone getting killed by a hot shot right at their head (especially pitchers). Like, literally killed, thanks to the nature of the modern game.
The risk is still there, but I love that the NCAA was proactive. This is the kind of change that does not water down competition, or really change the nature of the rules at all. Furthermore, I believed for years that if companies have the technology to enhance contact, they also had the technology to deaden it. That has been proven with this change, as there are 191 different approved bat models to choose from.
I don't blame companies for designing more and more potentially lethal bats. They had to compete with each other, and given that their consumer picks their bat based on how well they can crush the ball, they did what they should. The rule change does not change any company's business model at all - it just changes how far they can go.
This is the kind of thinking that other leagues need to adopt, particularly the NFL. Sure, a certain degree of padding and protection is required, but these products are marketed to players. They are looking to be as strong, fast, and flexible as possible. So, is it all that surprising when the Nike Pro Combat slogan is "Born of tradition. Built for speed?" Ironically, as uniform technology increases, so do injuries, because protection is not a priority above performance for athletes.
If the NFL stepped in like the NCAA has done with bats, and put mandates on the absorption that pads and helmets have to take, the game would be dramatically safer overnight. Hopefully, college baseball sets a trend in sports.
I digress. Back to baseball. It will be interesting to see how different college statistics look this year, and if they correlate any better to professional success. While it is easy to argue that the inevitable drop in offense will make the college game less interesting, I think there is a good chance the negatives are balanced out by increasing interest in the MLB draft. With the draft getting covered on television the past few years, more people are aware of the big names in college. Deader bats should make the best hitters stand out more easily, which might only add intrigue and interest in watching them.
Lastly, pitchers stand to benefit, and there is something riveting about pitching duels. Some sports network might want to think about airing a Friday night college baseball game of the week. It would have a niche audience, but I think it could catch on. With the way college baseball works, each team's ace typically pitches on Friday. If a TV channel did select national games on Friday nights, they could just about guarantee themselves match-ups between two legitimate MLB pitching prospects. Or, a few years ago, they could have followed Stephen Strasburg around and broadcasted a few of his overpowering performances.
All in all, the deader bats rule should have got more attention than it did. Bravo to the NCAA on a needed rule change that sets an example for others, and makes their own game better.