The SEC is integrating an experimental technological solution to the pace of play in its baseball conference regular season and tournament games for next season, and the fix could eventually make its way to MLB.
University programs are often where research is done to solve problems and MLB pace of play seems to be no different. Teams in the SEC will begin experimenting with what they hope will address that issue in their own games when the next NCAA baseball season begins.
College sports are a business just like MLB ,and as colleges across the country cut their athletic budgets because of state funding shortages, baseball is often one of the sports looked at for cutting. It allows the school to remain in compliance with Title IX in its cuts, and at most schools, baseball is much more of a drain on resources than a revenue-producer. Anything college baseball can do to make itself more appealing to fans is something that must be considered.
The SEC isn’t installing a pitch clock or limiting mound visits, though there is no reason to say that won’t happen in the future. According to Joe Lemire of SportTechie, the NCAA has granted the SEC clearance to use a wireless communication device that will allow the team’s coach to speak directly to the catcher during all conference regular season and tournament games. The coach will have a mic pinned onto his uniform and the catcher will wear an earpiece. Through it, the catcher will receive verbal instructions from his coach throughout the game on matters like defensive alignment and pitch location/selection. The catcher will not be able to speak back to his coach through the device.
The coach will have a mic pinned onto his uniform and the catcher will wear an earpiece. Through it, the catcher will receive verbal instructions from his coach throughout the game on matters like defensive alignment and pitch location/selection. The catcher will not be able to speak back to his coach through the device.
The problem that the SEC is facing is the same as what MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has spoken about on several occasions. Lemire remarked that the average game time of College World Series games has grown by about 25 minutes over a time period of fewer than five years. This past June, a USA Today report stated that despite its efforts, MLB’s games have averaged three hours and five minutes, which would be an all-time high.
Part of the reason that SEC games have a slower pace of play is because unlike in the professional ranks, catchers and pitchers in most college games don’t collaborate on their own pitch location and selection. In the vast majority of cases, pitch location and selection is determined by the team’s coach, on each and every pitch of a game. The coach sends hand signals to the catcher, who then translates those signals to the pitcher. It’s easy to understand how that bogs down the process, and how cutting it out could be a tremendous time saver.
While that’s not a concern in MLB, where catchers and pitchers largely call their own games with situational interventions from the pitching coach and manager, that doesn’t mean this product doesn’t have possible application in the pros. Wireless communication devices between a manager or a pitching coach and the players on the field could eliminate the need for mound visits by either the catcher or the dugout staff. While it would be a change that teams would have to adapt to, as teams often use mound visits to buy extra time for relief pitchers to warm, baseball has already adapted to other rule changes like instant replay very well.
A possible introduction of this technology to MLB is probably a long way off, as it would be tested in the minor leagues before introduction to the majors in spring training. The fact that one of the college game’s most prominent conferences is going all-in with the tech to address the same need that MLB has makes this storyline one worth watching, however.