Experimental Bat Testing Highly Successful 0

By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The stage is set for possible bat testing throughout NCAA baseball starting with the 2018 season and throughout the playoffs.

Thanks to successful experimental bat testing by the Southeastern Conference the past three seasons and the Missouri Valley Conference in 2017, a substantial body of evidence is now in place which virtually eliminates bat tampering.

If the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee approves such testing in all NCAA games this summer with a start date of 2018, illegal, high performing bats will be eliminated in the game.

“This is our third year of bat testing in the SEC,” said Herb Vincent, associate commissioner and baseball administrator with the SEC.

“All of our schools have purchased the NCAA approved bat testing device (from LV Sports in Moscow, Idaho at a cost of $1,350 each).

“To set up the proper testing protocol, we contacted the folks who run the Sports Science Laboratory at Washington State University who test bats for the NCAA and also have worked closely with the NCAA.

“There has already been extensive testing for softball bats. So that has helped us in coming up with a testing protocol.”

Vincent said testing has taken place prior to conference series.

“Two years ago, we tested bats prior to series in conference games only five weekends of the 10 only to collect data. We didn’t eliminate any bats that year. It allowed us to develop minimum standards.

“Last year, we pulled bats that didn’t meet these standards. Game managers at each SEC school have helped us run the testing procedure. And we haven’t received one complaint from any of the coaches about this bat testing. Everything has gone very smoothly.”

Vincent said that special labels are put on bats that are cleared for play.

“Let’s say that Ole Miss is playing Georgia. Georgia’s bats will be tested by an Ole Miss administrator. The bats that are OK will have a special Ole Miss sticker put on the Georgia bats. A Georgia representative will test the Old Miss bats. Approved bats will get Georgia stickers on the Ole Miss bats.

“The stickers are made so that if someone tries to take one off to put on an illegal bat, the sticker will tear. They are similar to license plate stickers but a bit different.”

Vincent is proud of the leadership role the SEC has played in bat testing for baseball.

“Let me again commend Washington State’s Sports Science Lab and the NCAA for helping with our protocol. The vast majority of our testing has been in conference games. But some of our coaches are having opponents sign contracts for games which include bat testing.”

Vincent said many of the bats that have been taken out of play were worn, cracked or not fit for competition.

“It would be great to see all NCAA baseball go to bat testing. Then there wouldn’t be a question about any player using a hot bat.”

Missouri Valley Testing
Greg Walter, associate commissioner with the Missouri Valley Conference, said bat testing has worked without a hitch in 2017 prior to conference series.

“Our conference didn’t go to bat testing because of rampant doctoring of bats in our league,” said Walter.

“We did it to be at the front end of the national conversation on this issue. Elvis Dominguez is the head baseball coach of Bradley in our conference and chairman of the NCAA Rules Committee.

“There was great interest with our coaches to be involved in experimental bat testing and doing something pro active to put our league in a good spot. When our coaches met last August, they were very much in favor of doing bat testing this season.

“Our administrators were supportive, and all schools went out and purchased the bat testing machines over the winter. We have done testing prior to conference series. Some schools have even had testing done in non-league games.

“The testing has gone smoothly. We found that we didn’t have a significant problem with altered bats. When you do testing like this, it gives teams an element of credibility with the bats they are using and an assurance of integrity that no cheating is taking place.

“It ensures a level playing field.”

Walter feels this will be a big step on solving the issue of players using illegal, hot bats.

“This is a conversation that needs to happen conference by conference because the bat testing machine is over $1,300 each. Each league must weigh the value against the cost. For us at the Missouri Valley Conference, we felt it was important to do this for the integrity of the game.

“The perception or reality that players are using doctored bats doesn’t help anybody. In softball, there is testing everywhere which has cleaned up that sport. In time, I feel you will see testing increase in college baseball.”

Walter said the conference that deserves the most credit on bat testing should be the SEC.

“They are in their third year of testing, and they were a great resource for us on the protocol that they have used and explained what didn’t work. It has worked tremendously, and I would be remiss if I didn’t explain the great work they have done.”

Illegal Bats In 2016
During a 2017 NCAA Rules presentation for NCAA Division I, II and III coaches at last January’s American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Anaheim, Calif., Dominguez said that an unusually high number of people reported illegal bats being used during the 2016 season which alarmed the Rules Committee.

“I was on the NCAA Rules Committee back in 2008 when we began formulating plans to use the current BBCOR specification bats on the market,” said Dominguez.

“Once the regulations went into effect for these bats, we thought the problem of high performance bats was over. But last season, the Rules Committee got more calls than we ever expected on players utilizing illegal bats that had been rolled or had the barrels shaved for more trampoline effect.

“In some cases, you were seeing 6-7 batters from the same team using the exact same bat which is a telltale sign that an illegal bat was being used.

“When we got to the College World Series where bat testing is utilized, a number of bats (20) did not pass and were taken out of play before the CWS started.

“Because of this, we need to test bats well before the College World Series so the right teams make it to Omaha without an illegal advantage. 

“Before we make it mandatory for all, we must see if the $1,350 cost of purchasing these machines is doable for conferences on the Division II and III levels.

“Any time you have a cost associated with a rule, you must be very careful you don’t mandate it across the board without some research.”

Dominguez said that if a player is found using an illegal, tampered bat made for higher performance, the Rules Committee is exploring serious consequences for those actions.

“If a young man is found to have taken steroids, he will lose 365 days of eligibility for a first offense from the date of the test.

“Several members of the Rules Committee feel such a penalty might not be out of line for a player caught using an illegal, high performing bat. I can tell you that members of the Baseball Rules Committee were not too happy with all the calls we received last season about illegal bat use.”

Dominguez said that many NCAA Division I teams have sponsorships through bat companies.

“A school may use certain bats. But this doesn’t prevent players from purchasing their own bats through bat doctoring firms that have been rolled or had the barrel interior shaved for greater trampoline effect on hit balls. Or they can send their own personal bat to these companies to be doctored.”

As mentioned earlier, bat testing currently takes place in conjunction with the NCAA Division I College World Series.

Illegal Bat Rolling
 “The biggest concern we have is that bats are being rolled,” said George Drouches, NCAA National Coordinator of Umpires.

Bat rolling is a process that can add significant pop and distance to a baseball bat.

By rolling a bat illegally, unethical people enjoy the bat’s maximum potential from the very first swing without putting all the wear and tear on it.

The bat is placed between two rollers and then pressure is applied so that as the bat passes through the rollers as the bat’s fibers are stretched out.

This causes the fibers to become more flexible which greatly improves the bat’s trampoline effect when balls hit the barrel resulting in increased batted ball speed and distance. It will make the sweet spot bigger and much more consistent as well.

“Not only that, but the bat barrel walls are being shaved on the inside for greater trampoline effect as well,” said Drouches.

“Coaches must hold each other accountable so teams are not cheating. It all comes down to the integrity of people in the sport of baseball.”

Drouches did not feel comfortable giving a number of how many teams or players were accused of this illegal and highly unethical practice of doctoring bats last season.

“I can tell you that we received quite a few phone calls about this problem last season, and it is our hope that the problem will diminish.”

Drouches said that 20 bats were taken out of play at the 2016 College World Series after bat testing.

As a comparison, 16 bats were confiscated prior to the start of the 2014 College World Series.

To read more of this story, purchase the May 5, 2017 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.