NCAA Approves Flat Seam Baseball

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee approved the use of flat seam baseballs for the Division I championship starting in 2015 which should add more offense to the game.

Since BBCOR specification bats have been required with the 2011 season, offensive numbers have plummeted in college and high school baseball.

The poster child for lack of offense took place at the 2013 College World Series as only three home runs were hit in 14 games. It marked the lowest home run total since 1966 — some 47 years ago when only two home runs were hit in 15 games.

The total number of runs scored in the 2013 College World Series was 86 — the lowest total since 1973 which was the last year before aluminum bats and the designated hitter.

From an all-time high of 62 homers at the 1998 College World Series, the numbers have sunk lower and lower with 9 in 2011, 10 in 2012 and 3 in 2013. Numbers the last three years have closely mirrored the wood bat era in college baseball which took place up to the 1973 season.

After several months of testing at the NCAA Bat Certification lab last summer at Washington State University, results showed that the flat seam ball will travel further than a raised seam ball due to the “drag effect.” The greater the distance a ball travels, the greater the drag effect.

The test was conducted with an average ball exit speed from a machine at 95 mph with a spin rate of 1,400 RPM and a launch angle of 25 degrees. These parameters were set because they replicate the settings of a typical home run or a hit that could become a home run.

The average distance the raised seam ball traveled was 367 feet while the average distance the flat seam ball traveled was 387 feet — 20 feet further.

Overwhelming Support
This ruling came on the heels of an American Baseball Coaches Association vote by NCAA Division I head baseball coaches who were overwhelmingly in favor of adopting the flat seam ball.

“The results were very significant as 87 percent of coaches were in favor of the flat seam ball over the raised seam ball,” said Dave Keilitz, executive director of the ABCA.

“Of the 31 NCAA Division I conferences, a majority of the coaches in 29 of 31 conferences wanted the flat seam ball. One conference saw its coaches split on the issue and the other conference preferred to keep the raised seam ball but only by a majority of one.”

Keilitz said the results of a survey from NCAA Division I coaches one year ago were the polar opposite as a slight majority (55 percent) preferred a flat seam ball at that time.

With home runs and offense going the way of the Dodo bird last season, coaches became more vocal for a change. That is why this dramatic voting change of 32 percent took place.

“I feel the (NCAA Division I Baseball) committee had all of their questions answered. And they respected the wishes of the coaches. So they acted.

“The biggest thing is that the majority of the coaches feel that the home run doesn’t hardly exist any more even if a hitter squares up on a pitch. The majority of the coaches feel the balance of the game needed to be brought back.

“This change will not see significantly more home runs. The home run should be back in the game but not to the extent where it was several years ago before the BBCOR bat started being used.”

The change didn’t have to go through the NCAA Rules Committee, which represents all three divisions — I, II and III, because it isn’t a ball rule change.

“The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee can declare that the flat seam ball will be used for tournament play, and it’s done. Secondly, safety is not a factor because the ball comes off the bat at the same speed whether it is a raised seam ball or a flat seam ball (the drag effect does not take effect until the ball travels a good distance). Third, all the major ball companies (Diamond, Wilson, Rawlings) can easily produce a flat seam ball at no extra cost to the schools.”

For years, NCAA Division I schools have used the raised seam baseball in practices and games since it is the ball being used in post-season NCAA tournament games.

Division I teams will undoubtedly change to the flat seam baseball after the 2014 season concludes.

No testing was done at Washington State on the minor league specification flat seam baseball since neither the NCAA Rules Committee nor the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee has any interest in using it for tournament games at this time with the higher maximum .578 COR performance level.

According to Keilitz, previous testing showed significant differences in the distances balls travel that are approved for college and pro baseball.

“Previous research has shown that a minor league flat seam ball with a maximum COR of .578 hit 300 feet would go 20-25 feet further than a college (raised seam) ball with a maximum COR of .555,” said Keilitz.

That would translate to 26.6 to 33.3 feet further on a ball hit 400 feet with the minor league baseball.

Keilitz said that the cost per dozen for the minor league ball would run more than the college ball. The major league ball would be cost prohibitive to most schools at a cost of over $100 per dozen.

Great For Pro Baseball
Derek Johnson, Minor League Pitching Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs and a highly successful pitching coach for 11 seasons at Vanderbilt, feels a change in balls will be great for pitchers going into pro baseball.

“When pitchers use the flat seam ball in college, there will be no adjustment period at all to the professional baseball (which also is a flat seam baseball),” said Johnson.

“When college pitchers come into pro ball now, there is an adjustment phase getting used to the flat seam ball when it comes to curves since pitchers have been throwing with the high seam baseball for years. It’s a bit different throwing the flat seam ball, but eventually pitchers adjust.”

Johnson believes there will be fewer blisters with pitchers when they transition into pro ball since pitchers won’t try to grip the seams tighter.

Keilitz said that NCAA Division II and III coaches will be notified of the flat seam ball change in the Division I championship and the reasons why so they can vote on whether a change should take place in those championships.

“Usually there is a trickle down effect when Division I makes a change. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a change made for the Division II, III, NAIA, and junior college championships. High schools have had a major drop off offensively as well. So they could go to the flat seam ball also.”