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How Video Review, Challenges Could Impact College Softball

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(Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Video replay was first introduced to the Little League World Series in 2008. In 2016, college baseball used video replay for the first time in a College World Series game. After years of not having instant replay in college softball, a recent proposal could add the helpful technology into the game.

On July 2, the NCAA Softball Rules Committee proposed two promising additions to softball. Beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year, college softball may implement video review and allow coaches to have two video review challenges. The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel must approve the new rules by August 12 for these new additions to be officially instated.

Over the last few years, conference tournaments have experimented with video reviews. After much positive feedback and pushback for the lack of instant replay in the 2021 Women’s College World Series, the NCAA has taken the next step in making video review permanent.

“We're baffled,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said during this year's WCWS. “Why don't we have instant replay? Baseball has it. Volleyball has it. Why doesn't softball have it, especially on the biggest stage? It's only fair—it's fair for both programs, for all teams in the World Series. Everyone in the postseason…It's what the game deserves. It's what our players deserve.”

Under the new rule, fair or foul hits, spectator interference, obstruction and catches are all plays that can be reviewed.

The proposal also mentions that both head coaches will be given two challenges to initiate a review. To request a challenge, a coach must verbally or visually indicate before the next pitch, before all infielders and the pitcher have clearly vacated their normal fielding position and left fair territory or before the umpires leave the field.

College softball is known for its fast pace of play, which is made possible by the lack of instant replay and play reviews. For that reason, some are concerned that softball will soon be changing in more ways than one.

“Always a fan of making the game better and the more that technology gets in our game, it is definitely making the game better,” FSU head coach Lonni Alameda said before the start of the WCWS. “The one thing I just want to make sure that we are really thorough on is not slowing the game down…I know a lot of people love how fast the game of softball is, so if you are stopping it quite a bit to watch replay, you are going to slow it down again.”

For years, those in baseball have discussed ways to improve the sport's pace of play. According to The New York Times, in 2018, the average regular-season baseball game lasted two hours and 59 minutes through the typical nine innings. On average, college softball games last just over two hours through the regular seven innings.

Softball fans often partially credit their love of the sport to the swiftness and competitiveness seen in the game. That majority opinion was reflected heavily in the 2021 viewership numbers. This year, the WCWS averaged 1.2 million viewers, while the College World Series gathered just 755,000 average viewers.

It isn’t clear whether instant replay will take away the charm and excitement of the game, but calls will certainly be more accurate, coaches will be more involved and the latest technologies will be used in softball’s future.

For their 2021 conference tournament games, the SEC, ACC and Sun Belt conferences successfully experimented with video review.

“My only experience with (instant replay) was in the ACC Tournament and I thought it was great there,” FSU pitcher Kathryn Sandercock said before the WCWS. “I feel like it is something that’s probably in the future for this sport. It’d be great, but I want to keep the game fast-paced.”

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