Monday, May 10, 2021

NCAA Softball Interference Prompts Rules Check

When Loyola (Chicago)'s catcher hit Drake's retired batter-runner in the back with a throw following a caught bunt during a college softball game, NCAA umpires ruled a double play, but not after consulting both the rulebook and making a phone call to a rules authority.

With one out and one on (R1) in the first inning, a popped up bunt at home plate quickly turned into an air out thanks to a diving grab by the catcher, who threw toward first base in attempt to retire R1 for failing to tag up. However, F2's throw hit the retired batter-runner in the back, allowing R1 to advance to second base and kicking off a delay to sort out what would ultimately be ruled a double play.

We preface this by acknowledging that baseball's rules are different than softball's.

Specifically, softball's interference rule is defined as "an act that denies a defensive player a reasonable opportunity to make a play (field/throw) anywhere on the playing field. The act may be intentional or unintentional and the ball must have been playable." NCAA softball also has a specific rule for retired members of the offense (12.17.3), which states, "An offensive player, who no longer has status (a retired member of the offense or a player who has scored), may not interfere with a defensive player making a play on an active runner."

Whether one deems that, technically speaking, the retired batter-runner interfered with the catcher or with the fielder taking the throw at first base (similar to runner's lane interference's general principle that the interference with a thrown ball is with the fielder receiving the throw) is ultimately immaterial.

The only question here is whether the retired batter-runner's actions (or lack thereof) by standing on the foul line with her back turned to the catcher and (very most likely) unintentionally being struck by the catcher's throw constitutes interference: did this deprive the defense a reasonable opportunity to make a play?

For what it's worth, in MLB, Official Baseball Rule 6.01(a)(5) Comment specifically excludes this interaction from being deemed interference: "If the batter or a runner continues to advance or returns or attempts to return to their last legally touched base after they have been put out, they shall not by that alone be considered as confusing, hindering or impeding the fielders." For more information, see the related post in which retired Yankees runner Matt Holliday slides into first base and effectively gets in the way of Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland. Umpire Gary Cederstrom's crew no-called the interference.

Finally, although NCAA Softball does not mirror OBR's General Instructions to Umpires, the umpires by referencing the physical rulebook and ultimately calling a supervisor or other instructional person (similar to MLB umpires accessing Replay Review/New York for a Rules Check) exemplified OBR's instruction: "It is better to consult the rules and hold up the game ten minutes to decide a knotty problem than to inadvertently misapply the rules."

Also, from a game management standpoint, the controversial decision-making (one out, R1 vs two-outs) is sent to someone off the field and the on-field crew becomes observers, so when the coach is unhappy with the outcome, it is no longer because of an on-field ruling, but because of an off-field interpretation.

Note: This General Instruction was changed in 2020 to reflect MLB's new stance that protests shall no longer be allowed. The 2019 version stated, "It is better to consult the rules and hold up the game ten minutes to decide a knotty problem than to have a game thrown out on protest and replayed."

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Umpires Use Phone Call Rules Check for Retired BR Interference (ESPN/CCS)


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