It’s about time to end the time limits
Over the weekend the Mundelein Thunder 16U team I coached played in an NSA World Series qualifier. The rules for the tournament stated that no new inning could start after one hour and fifteen minutes. Not just in pool play but in bracket play too.
That is just insane. The time elapsed to play one fastpitch softball game from beginning to end was less than that for a youth soccer, hockey, or basketball game. That’s just not right. All of those sports by nature have a clock, with natural breaks (quarters or halves) to reset strategy and make substitutions. They’re oriented toward a clock, and cutting out a little time per period doesn’t have a huge impact on the game.
Putting a clock on softball does. After all, as George Carlin says, it’s a pastoral sport played in a park. Or as Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. When you put a time limit on softball, especially one as short as 75 minutes, you have changed the essential nature of the game.
If you are dedicated to giving your players the opportunity to play (as I am), rather than the opportunity to watch their friends win trophies, a 75 minute time limit is particularly tough to deal with. You have to be ready to make substitutions around the 35 minute mark. Not so bad if you’re the home team. But if you’re the visitors and want to sub when you go on defense, some kids aren’t going to play very much. I find that managing the time is far more stressful than managing the game.
But even if you’re not trying to squeeze in all your players it can still be rough. Some teams, for whatever reason, take a little while to get going. By they time they’re hitting on all cylinders the game is over or nearly so. They never get a chance to establish their rhythm, wear down their opponents, or get the feel of the game. It’s wham, bam, thank you ma’am, clear the dugouts so the next team can get in. It definitely favors the team with the biggest, strongest pitcher since hitters sometimes need a couple of at bats before they can zone in on the pitcher. Hey, it took Arizona three full games to figure out Monica Abbott.
This is a phenomenon peculiar to summer ball. High school games can (and sometimes do) go on forever, as two worthy opponents slug it out. College games are the same, as is youth league play.
It’s tempting to say the time limit is driven by greedy tournament directors trying to squeeze 10 lbs. of teams in a 5 lb. facility. But that’s not necessarily true, at least in the majority of cases. What it probably points to more is a lack of adequate facilities to host these summer tournaments.
Not sure what the answer is, but after experiencing it this weekend I think all tournament directors should be required to post what the time limits will be where they have the entry information. That way coaches can at least make an informed decision BEFORE they’ve committed their teams and their budgets. As a postscipt, I once took a team to a tournament where the 1:15 time limit was cut to an hour because of rain the day before. Needless to say I’ve never gone back there.
At the high school level and above, two solid teams can complete a game in 1:30 to 1:45. If you have to have a time limit, use one of those. An hour and fifteen minutes doesn’t serve anyone well.