Bowling Green pitcher Devin Westerman delivers during a game against Perrysburg earlier this year. The high school baseball season could be lengthened by the OHSAA. THE BLADE.
With the adoption of new baseball pitch-count rules by the Ohio High School Athletic Association this season, one problem may have been solved, but another has been created in the process.
The potential for arm injuries has been reduced, but finding enough pitchers to naviagte through Ohio’s compressed baseball season with the new rules creates a new dilemma for coaches.
One answer being considered is beginning state tournament play later in May and expanding the baseball season into mid-June.
Jerry Snodgrass, an assistant commissioner with OHSAA who oversees the sport of baseball, shared with The Blade a proposal to lengthen the baseball season and push the start and finish of tournament play back two full weeks in future seasons.
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The proposal, which is likely be tweaked before it is approved, is on the table for consideration.
“I have had a survey out to coaches and to athletic directors,” Snodgrass said of the proposed changes.
“Though it is not complete at this point, 78 percent of coaches and 64 percent of athletic directors favor it.”
If approved, Snodgrass said the soonest the an extended baseball season could be implemented would be 2019.
NEW RULE, NEW PROBLEM: Pitch-count restrictions are seen as a clearly safer alternative in protecting players against overuse arm injuries than the OHSAA’s previous rule, which had limited pitchers to 10 innings in any three-day period.
The previous rule had no cap on the number of pitches thrown in those allowed innings, so the pitch-count rule dealt with that concern.
But with the typically cold and wet weather in the Great Lakes region in the spring, the Ohio high school baseball season has often been compressed to an unreasonable degree.
Each year, teams have several early-season games postponed by poor weather, and coaches have long struggled to cram in their maximum 27 regular-season games, plus state tournament contests, into a span of 10 weeks.
Take out the 10 Sundays, which are almost never used for games, the weather postponements, and an appropriate number of practice days, and the Ohio high school baseball season often turns into a logjam of games.
Mix in the new pitch-count limits, especially for teams who traditionally develop maybe five or six players for pitching duty, and the degree of difficulty becomes greater. This is especially true for coaches strategically attempting to save their best pitchers for tourney games, and important league battles.
This was an immediate concern of the members of the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association, which made a proposal to the OHSAA that would push the start of tournament play (sectionals) back from early May to the third week of May.
Also, the season would be extended to mid-June for the state semifinals and finals.
PROPOSED FORMAT: Using the 2018 calendar as an example, sectionals would be held from May 21-26, districts would be scheduled from May 28 through June 2, regionals would be set for June 7-8, and the state final four would be played June 14-16. The regular season would end by June 14.
Why push the season back?
The OHSAA looked at four surrounding states (Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania) and found that Ohio has the most compressed season for regular season games and concludes its state tournament two weeks earlier than the other four states.
This season, Ohio’s state final four is scheduled for June 1-3. Michigan’s is June 15-17, Indiana’s is June 16-17, Kentucky’s is June 11-17, and Pennsylvania’s is June 12-16.
Extending the season by two weeks, without expanding the regular-season maximum of 27 games, would allow for more of a separation between regular-season games and tourney contests. This, in turn, would make the pitch-count rules less difficult to manage.
Snodgrass makes it clear that this is only a proposal, and it may not be approved by the majority OHSAA member schools.
“They could choose to dissent for a variety of reasons,” Snodgrass said of schools possibly rejecting an extended baseball season.
“[Lengthening their work year] would be one of them. But I think it’s more about how it relates to school transportation, monitoring noninterscholastic requirements, etc.”
LONGER SEASON A MUST: A longer season and a later state tournament are now clear goals.
“The proposal, with its intended purpose, has tremendous merits,” Snodgrass said. “I credit the group that worked on the pitch-count proposal, as well as the OHSBCA for insightful thinking on the possible adverse effects on high school baseball.
“The short window of games in Ohio, coupled with the weather issues we face, especially in the northern half of the state, limit high school baseball in Ohio. The implementation of the required pitching limitations has the potential to require younger players to pitch at a higher level [varsity] than they may be ready for.
“As a result, theoretically, that could limit the numbers available to field freshmen and JV teams. Already I have heard from schools that have cancelled games partially due to a limited number of players who are pitchers.”
Just as the pitch-count rules have helped solved one problem while creating another one, so too could an expanded season create negative issues for some schools.
“Without a doubt, change is tough, and moving the season back has unintended consequences,” Snodgrass said. “Everything from potentially having more graduation conflicts, and having conflicts with off-season summer sports [7-on-7 football, AAU basketball, etc.], which have become seasons in themselves.
“However, for the quality of baseball in Ohio, the merits exceed the downside. Only a select number of teams [regional and state] will likely be participating beyond May 31.”