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October 8, 2013

Bianco in favor of change to livelier baseball

The dead-ball era of college baseball may be about to end.

Steps are being taken to lower the seams on the baseballs used in NCAA play to help balance out the BBCOR bats which have resulted in lower offensive numbers since being introduced prior to the 2011 season.

American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Dave Keilitz sent a letter to all Division I head coaches to discuss a recent study regarding the flat-seam baseballs. The NCAA Bat Certification lab at Washington State and the Rawlings Research lab tested the raised-seam ball vs. the flat-seam ball, and the results were substantial.

The lab tested the distance each ball traveled at 95 MPH with a spin rate of 1,400 RPM and a launch angle of 25 degrees. The current ball averaged 367 feet, while the flat-seam ball averaged 387 feet due to what is being termed the "drag effect."

"I'm for a livelier ball," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "The testing is a good thing because we didn't get that with the BBCOR bats. The rule changed, and we didn't know what to expect."

The BBCOR change had much to do with player safety, and it's notable that the flat-seam ball doesn't increase exit speed so there's no possibility increased injury to fielders due to the ball. The drag effect only happens once the ball has been in the air and travels a moderate distance.

Very little red tape is involved with changing the ball to the flat-seam model. The Division I Baseball Committee plans to discuss the issue on Nov. 4. Coaches have to return their opinions by the middle of this month. However, even with overwhelming support, the change likely won't happen until 2015.

Bianco said the Southeastern Conference coaches were polled last year, and the flat-seam balls won the vote, 13-1. He didn't' reveal the dissenting voter but said it wasn't him.

Some have argued it's because coaches want a fall practice period with the balls, but Bianco thinks the reason is more of a financial one. Most schools have already ordered raised-seam balls for 2014.

"The biggest thing would be money," Bianco said. "That's a bigger issue than using the ball in the fall. There's no timeframe for a pitcher getting used to the ball. Most of them use that ball in the summer anyway. Most summer leagues use a flat-seam balls or a Minor League ball.

"We use a zillion more here than we used at McNeese State. We go through probably 350 to 400 dozen a year depending on things. It's about $50 a dozen, so say $20,000."

There has also been a push to switch to a Minor League baseball which has the same flat-seam but also a higher coefficient of restitution (COR) which results in a livelier ball. The current college ball has a COR of .555, while the Minor League ball has a .578 COR.

Keilitz that change would take more time if coaches wanted it, primarily due to some conferences having contracts with companies that don't' make the Minor League baseball. However, the Minor League ball was included in the survey coaches received.

The flat-seam ball would increase pitching velocities, but opinions are mixed on what it would do to pitchers breaking balls. There's the thought that the better pitchers would be able to increase the spin with the flat-seam ball, while those who needed the extra help would suffer with the new ball.

Bianco doesn't buy that. He was the pitching coach for Team USA over the summer, and every pitcher preferred the lower seams.

"No one had a problem spinning it," Bianco said. "I think it's overrated that the raised-seam ball helps more. Pitchers throw the flat one faster, and there's less resistance."


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