NCAA to Adopt Flat-Seam Baseballs? Looking Favorable…For Now

College Baseball The Division I Baseball Committee will meet on November 4 to discuss the issue surrounding the potential adoption of the flat-seam baseball in NCAA tournament play.

The meeting is coming on the heels of a collaborative research study that was conducted nearly one month ago by the NCAA Bat Certification lab at Washington State University and Rawlings Research lab concerning the “drag-effect” of the flat-seam baseball that is used in professional baseball versus that of the raised-seam baseball that is utilized in college baseball.

The study found that the “drag-effect” is in fact a real occurrence, wherein the farther a ball is hit, the greater the drag effect on the ball.

The experiment conducted by the labs replicated the settings of an average home run swing. Balls launched from a 25 degree angle out of a machine at 95 MPH with a 1400 RPM spin rate were tested and subsequently proved the existence of the “drag-effect.”

Raised-seam balls tested in the study traveled an average distance of 367 feet, while flat-seamed balls traveled an average of 387 feet – a difference of 20 feet, a significant one at that.

For those concerned with safety regarding the use of flat-seam balls at the college level, there is no imminent need to fret. The seams on such balls do not affect exit velocity due to the fact that a baseball will have had to travel a considerable distance for the “drag-effect” to take effect.

Not to mention, the Division I committee will only be discussing the option implementing flat-seam balls for use in tournament play, which if implemented would not take effect until 2015.

Until then (if implemented), teams will be able to experiment with the new ball during next year’s fall training and throughout tournament play in 2015, all of which should be valuable, yet ample time to get a general feel for the flat-seam ball.

From there, it would be likely (barring any particular setbacks or negative consequences from the implementation of the ball) that the flat-seam would be incorporated into regular season play for Division I teams.

While the adoption of the flat-seam ball may prove effective in encouraging offensive output, such may have a significant negative effect on pitching. Pitching with a flat-seam ball requires a more refined skill, wherein it is much harder to create movement on a flat-seam ball.

As a result, pitchers may be at a serious disadvantage, as batters would be able to get a better read and ultimately square up on the ball.

Typically, it is usually easier for pitchers to get better, sharper movement on their two-seam fastballs (and occasionally for those who throw hard breaking ball offerings), but the opposite is true of most off-speed pitches, namely the curveball.

Although college pitchers may have to adapt to the new ball (and perhaps for the better, as it will give them a better feel for the level of competition at the professional level), many feel that the adoption of the flat-seam ball will allow for new-found balance in the game, such as Rice University head coach Wayne Graham.

“The fans love a balance in the game,” said Graham. “They don’t need the 77 home runs or whatever that (Barry) Bonds hit, but they need the excitement. There’s something about the superhero and the home run.

I noticed some people saying, ‘Well, this is the real game.’ No, that’s not the real game. That’s the dead ball-era game. That’s not the game that popularized baseball. That’s not the real game—that’s poo-poo. The real game has balance.”

In many ways, Graham is right – the game of college baseball needs a definitive balance. While the majority of coaches will more than likely side in favor of the switch to flat-seam balls (given the event that the committee adopts the use of the ball for tournament play following Monday’s meeting), the one factor holding back such a forward-moving process is manufacturers’ rights.

Different conferences across the country hold regular season contracts with various baseball manufacturers, which may prove a problem for the implementation of the flat-seam ball as not every company manufactures that type of baseball.

Whether the aforementioned problem will be able to be solved by the time college baseball is ready to fully adopt the flat-seam ball is yet to be determined, but what is already known is that a change is needed in college baseball that will further promote greater competition and a broader, yet dedicated fan base across the country.

About the Author

Josh Vadeboncoeur
Follow Josh on Twitter @vadeboncoeurCBC Josh is currently a student at the University of Florida pursuing a Master of Science degree in Sport Management. He’s an avid fan and scholar of the game, who although has a place in his heart for his Gators, is as objective as they come. Josh is a member of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, giving him official votes in the Dick Howser Trophy, Regional Players of the Year, and NCBWA All-America voting. Josh’s knowledge of the game of baseball ranges from the post-Civil War baseball boom to the current modern era, covering topics such as business and politics of the game to the minor leagues to negro league baseball and even international expansion. But most of all, a strong passion lies in his heart for college baseball.