By Maren Angus
The NCAA Softball Rules Committee had a busy offseason. It approved rule changes for several areas of the game including obstruction, runner’s lane, media format, technology, pace and flow.
One of the most interesting changes has to do with staying in the batter’s box. According to NCAA.com, “The panel approved a rule prohibiting batters from having any part of their foot touch the ground outside the lines of the batter’s box when bat-ball contact is made. If a batter violates this rule, she will be declared out.”
BTP spoke with Emily Allard, a slapping instructor for Be the Momentum and marketing/sponsorships specialist for the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, and University of Mississippi assistant coach Katie Rietkovich about how this rule change could potentially affect the slapping game.
BTP: Can you explain the rule change a little further?
EA: Basically, the old rule was that as long as any part of your foot was touching chalk you were in the box. So your whole foot could be out but your heel could be touching chalk and you were still safe. Now, if any part of your foot is outside of the chalk when you make contact, you’re out.
BTP: That sounds like it could make things a little more difficult?
EA: Arguably, the umpire’s first job is to call balls and strikes. So will he/she even be looking for this? We’ll see. It could be huge but it will only be huge if it’s called and called consistently so I’m not sure.
KR: We are going to keep doing this the way we have been. We aren’t going to make a big deal about this new rule until someone starts calling it. Then we have the adjustments in place. Each girl has their own adjustment they are going to make if it does get called.
BTP: Does this affect where a slapper will start in the box?
EA: It would from a how close am I going to stand to the plate aspect. It would from how far away do I start from the pitcher aspect. What I’ve been talking to with college slappers and what they’ve communicated to me is a half step back is what they are all leaning towards.
KR: All four of our slappers are super different but I think the biggest adjustment will be to back off the plate. They are naturally going to be able to handle the pitches on the outside part of the plate. The trend we have faced in the SEC has been to throw inside to slappers anyways.
BTP: How have you communicated the rule change to your players?
EA: I wouldn’t say we’ve emphasized it but we’ve definitely spoken about it and have addressed it. It’s more important for the 15, 16, 17-year-olds getting closer rather than the younger kids.
KR: I guess I’m fortunate because the slappers we have here at Ole Miss weren’t really called for being out of the box too often. So it wasn’t something I really had to over-communicate with them but I made sure to explain the new rule to them and to the rest of team.
BTP: Does this affect the footwork of slapping at all?
EA: I think growing up your footwork is the hardest thing to really nail down. Depending on where the pitch is determines, sometimes, a lot about your footwork. A batter’s box is seven feet by three feet so you have a lot of wiggle room there. The most concerning part is the last foot. It’s more so learning where that boundary is on my crossover step.
KR: You just have to make sure that you are maintaining good direction. If you have a kid that tends to dive over the plate then you she needs to back off the plate a little bit more than the kid who maintains a better direction to the five-six hole or up the middle.
BTP: We learned a lot about the slapping game by watching Ole Miss last season. Can you explain the difference between a regular slap and the high hop?
KR: The regular slap is something you try to hit for power through the infield for a base hit. The high hop is something I’m trying to keep on the infield and it’s a foot race to first base. How fast is the ball coming down in the air and can I beat it out to first? I think the high hop is the most deadly thing in the game. If you bounce the ball 20 to 22 feet in the air, that ball isn’t going to come down any faster. That’s an uncontrollable, the defense cannot control how fast the ball falls from the sky. They can control a shift but they can’t control the ball in the air so why don’t I use that?
Only time will tell if this rule will make a difference in the offensive play of college softball. It’s also important to remember that this rule isn’t just for the lefties. It is in place on the right side as well which means hitters who step toward the plate to hit the outside pitch will have to watch where their feet land.