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Dec. 1, 2013

Face Masks, Home Runs Top List of New SSUSA Rules for 2014


Softball News Report

CONCORD, N.C. – Mandatory facemasks for pitchers, a change in home run rules, a phasing out of underage exemptions in 75 and 80 divisions, and the adoption of a new trans-gender player policy highlighted action by the SSUSA Rules Committee here during the annual ISA/SSUSA Convention in early December.

Although the Agenda was somewhat shorter than in recent years, the approved amendments to the Playing and Eligibility Rules have generated the usual high level of interest within the SSUSA membership. The effective date of the rules amendments is December 6, 2013, unless otherwise stated in the changes:

PITCHERS (Rule §6.17) – The Rules Committee has mandated that all pitchers wear protection for the face. The previous requirement that pitchers must wear head gear and shin guards has been changed from a mandate to a recommendation. The amendments in this area also strongly recommend that pitchers wear protection for the chest/heart area.

With the new mandate, pitchers will no longer be required to sign waiver forms.

The primary rationale for this change is that softball, and any sport that involves high velocity hard objects in play, has an inherent risk of potential injury to participants from those objects – especially pitchers because they are closest to the batter.

The model for the Committee was the National Hockey League, which instituted their mandatory helmet rule with the 1979 Draft Class. While there was some initial resistance, helmets in hockey are seldom even noticed today and are regarded as a sensible standard equipment item.

The Committee anticipates the same for Senior Softball in regards to face protection.

HOME RUNS (§8.4) – Any changes to the home run rules seem to generate the most interest, and this year is no exception. Home runs over the limit in each skill division and across ages from 40-Masters through 70+ will now be Dead Ball Outs (“DBO”). This has been the rule for the Men’s 40-Masters division since the inception of their program in the early 2000s. Age 75+ and older men and Senior Women 50+ and older do not have home run limits.

Home run rules, especially in the Major-Plus division, have varied considerably in recent years.

The changes made this year to the Major-Plus and Major home runs were designed to shorten the chasm between divisions – especially the Major and Major-Plus divisions, so that more teams can be moved up because they will be able to compete at the higher level.

Another significant factor involved in the decision for change was the desire to have the best players in Senior Softball has a virtually identical playing rule set as the best players in the world, the Team USA Softball squad. Team USA plays with a maximum number (10) of allowed home runs with DBO’s thereafter.

Lastly, committee members said the new rules would discourage the “home run offense only” game of simply hitting as many home runs as possible. This home run derby play is, in the Committee’s view, not in the best interests of the game.

Members said they hoped the rule change would re-emphasize the importance of putting the ball in play, precision placement hitting and sound defensive skills. The Committee is confident these changes will help restore some of the balance between offense and defense in the Senior Softball game.

In a minor related rule change, SSUSA has now allowed for the practice of “hit and sit” following any over-the-fence home run.

MEN’S 75+ & 80+ ROSTERS (Rule §14.2) – Several years ago, the number of 75+ and 80+ players was extremely limited. In an effort to increase teams in both age groups, teams were allowed to add a few younger players.

However, SSUSA staff reported that the numbers of 75 and 80 players had increased to the point where the younger age player exemptions were no longer necessary.

The committee delayed the changes until the 2015 Season to prevent disrupting the rosters of teams that have already been assembled for the 2014 Season.

For the Men’s 75+ Division, the current allowance of five age 74 players is retained for the 2014 Season and is eliminated for the 2015 Season and thereafter.

For the Men’s 80+ Division, the current allowance of seven underage players, no more than three of whom may be age 78, is retained for the 2014 Season.

For the 2015 Season, the allowance is reduced to three players, all of whom must be age 79, and for the 2016 Season and thereafter, the allowance is eliminated, requiring all players to be age 80.

TRANS-GENDER PLAYERS (§14.2(6) – NEW) -- The Rules Committee was requested to consider the issue of trans-gender athletes in Senior Softball to ensure that no athlete is excluded from the opportunity to participate, but that eligibility standards are established to ensure the safety of women players and to maintain fairness in competition. The Rules Committee has adopted the standards used by the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) to govern the eligibility of trans-gender athletes.

Challenges to eligibility under this provision will be treated as with any other eligibility protest, such as residency or minimum age. Should the athlete be required to comply with the IOC standards, any diagnostic or laboratory testing costs will vest solely with the athlete.

Other Playing Rules amended by the Rules Committee included:

* Moving the commitment line from 20 feet to 30 feet from home plate (§1.15),

* Removing from play any bat that exhibits significant cracking or other deformity (§3.4),

* Prohibiting a base runner attempting to score from running over or through the batter’s boxes (§8.9).

* Allowing the use of a secondary scoring plate at facilities that are so equipped (§8.10).

For a complete analysis of all actions of the 2013 Rules Committee, including the actual language of the Rulebook section amendments, please refer to the references on the SSUSA web site at www.seniorsoftball.com.
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