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Yes, the NCAA is taking the time to look at pace of play after Game 1’s 4:24 marathon

June 18, 2018

Shadows stretched across the infield as North Carolina and Oregon State recorded the final out of their game Saturday afternoon. Fitting for the longest nine-inning game in College World Series history.

Ten pitchers, 14 runs, 24 hits and 339 combined pitches added up to the 4-hour, 24-minute marathon the Tar Heels won 8-6. It was the fifth CWS contest to eclipse the four-hour mark since TD Ameritrade Park opened in 2011 — but the first of the five that didn’t go into extra innings.

A rules official said all existing measures to keep up the pace of play were followed by the umpires. Players rarely left the batter’s box during at-bats, and the 1-minute, 50-second breaks between innings were enforced.

“It certainly came front and center because it’s the first game of the series,” said Ben Brownlee, the NCAA assistant director for championships and playing rules. “But sometimes a long game is going to happen.”

NCAA baseball has a two-year rules cycle, with any changes set to be implemented in 2019. Among pace-of-play changes the rules committee will consider:

Limiting mound visits. Major League Baseball began capping teams at six per game this season. The NCAA is still surveying programs to see what number its members would prefer.

No-pitch intentional walks. Instead of making a pitcher throw four balls, a coach could show four fingers to an umpire to signal the intentional walk. MLB has already implemented this change.

A pitch clock. One version of this rule would include a clock visible from the field, with pitchers having 15 seconds between pitches with the bases empty; there would be no clock with runners on. Another possibility is to have a 30-second limit between pitches regardless of situation; the Big 12 experimented with that as a way to provide the committee data when it meets in July.

Brownlee said pace of play bleeds into other rules changes. If, for example, the NCAA expands video review and implements a pitch clock, game lengths may not shorten at all.

But with the NCAA’s ideal game length at about three hours, there is motivation to make some tweaks.

“It’s something that we feel is a relatively important task for the rules committee this year because of viewership, and not just TV viewership but people going to a game,” Brownlee said. “If a game doesn’t start until 7 o’clock, you don’t have 4 ½ hours to sit around, especially if you want to bring kids to the ballgame. We understand the importance of improving the game instead of taking our time.”

The average CWS game last year lasted 3:15. The highest average was 3:38 in 2009. It has dipped under three hours once since 2003 — 2:54 in 2012.

“I know sometimes it’s agonizing for other people to watch because it’s like, ‘Really? We’re in the third inning and we’ve played two hours already?’ ” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “So it is what it is. But we’re not trying to drag it out by design.”

OSU coach Pat Casey said he would prefer shorter contests — but not at the expense of the in-game strategy, especially at the CWS.

“I just think it’s going to be a long game when you walk people and make errors,” Casey said. “Four-and-a-half hours is too long to be on the field. You can go to a big league game and those things can happen, as well. But I’m certainly not thinking about those things during the game.”