Yahoo SportsJuly 7, 2023
The National Federation of State High School Associations serves as the governing body for 52 high school athletic associations and more than 19,500 member schools. For over 100 years, they helped shape the landscape of high school sports across the country, including altering or adding new rules for a plethora of sports.
While states aren’t required to adopt each published ordinance, most comply with the suggestions and use the NFHS to govern up to 15 sports. Ahead of the 2023-academic year, the governing body made adjustments to the baseball rulebook, giving high school associations and schools over seven months to prepare for the changes.
Much like Major League Baseball, the sport is evolving at the high school level and implementing the PitchCom communication system equivalent for its member schools. According to the release, “The use of a one-way communication device between a coach in the dugout and a team’s catcher for the purposes of calling pitches will be permitted in high school baseball.”
Although the pitcher is the one with the device at the professional level, this change is one step in the evolution of the game.
With the new rule, coaches are unable to communicate with any player on the field besides the catcher while on defense and with any player while batting. In addition, the coaching staff must remain in the dugout when using the device to ensure they’re properly conforming to the new policies.
“This change is consistent with the growth of the game and is indicative of a measured and responsible approach to enable technology into our level of competition,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS Director of Sports and Educational Services and liaison to the Baseball Rules Committee.
“The committee has made these changes to maintain the balance between offense and defense, increase the pace of play, and will responsibly manage technology so there is no advantage gained by schools that have more available resources than some of their contemporaries. Creating a level playing field is paramount to education-based athletics.”
While the introduction of the latest technology into the game is the highlight of the rule changes, the NFHS’ Board of Directors approved four other alterations for the 2024 baseball season.
Under Rule 1-6-1, teams who use wristbands for defensive shifts, game directions or pitching choices are required to use a single, solid color on the forearm. They are also assigned as non-electronic equipment, allowing various players to wear them while in the field.
As catchers will gain a device for pitch calling, they are also prohibited from adding particular accessories to their face masks not permitted by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Previously, catchers have been using unapproved eye shields or tinted eyewear under their face masks.
The NFHS cites safety as the primary concern, as “the tinted eye shield is problematic because it would prevent a medical professional from accessing the eyes of the catcher to determine their condition.”
On the field, the association addressed the vernacular for a lodged ball, differentiating between a ball “stuck on the field or in an apparatus, compared to when it is stuck in a glove.”
Now, a ball that is on the playing field, but has become wedged, stuck, lost or unreachable will be deemed a lodged ball. In turn, it will become a dead ball and play will be halted.
If a ball were to become stuck in the glove of a player, it is not considered a lodged ball. In this situation, it is still a live ball.
Umpires alike were also impacted by the rule changes and alterations from the July meetings.
Spectators have, in some instances, become an issue, berating umpires after what they deemed was a missed call. In the past, this was cause for a team having to forfeit a contest. That is no longer the case.
Under Rule 10-2-3h, the decision to forfeit a contest due to fan behavior is no longer in the “umpire-in-chief’s jurisdiction.” Only behavior from players, coaches, and team personnel can warrant the forfeit of a contest.
“This change is a complementary rule to support schools’ game management role in addressing unacceptable behavior and will allow the umpire to focus on the action and players on the field,” Hopkins said.
These changes will certainly impact member schools of the NCHSAA and will likely do the same for the NCISAA. While not directly affiliated with the NFHS, private school associations tend to adopt the same rules enacted in public school associations such as the NCHSAA.
The new implemented and adjusted rules will not take place until the season begins in February, but gives schools an appropriate amount of time to adjust accordingly.