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If Softball HAS to Have Time Limits…

I’m pretty sure I’ve made my feelings about time limits for fastpitch softball games pretty clear. You can read all about them in this post. Or this one.

The short version is I don’t like them. Never have, never will.

The reason is fastpitch softball wasn’t designed to have time limits. It’s supposed to have INNING limits, i.e., the game is over after seven (count ’em) seven innings.

As a result the basic rules of the game are designed on the premise of having unlimited time to complete the game. Unfortunately, the reality is that time limits are here to stay.

Most tournaments are designed to make money for the hosting organization, so tournament directors are incented to squeeze as many games as they can into two, or three, or however many days. (The larger tournaments are incented to keep people in town for as many days as possible by spreading the early games out for two or three days and then jamming them all in at the end, but that’s a different issue.)

So what better way to fit 10 lbs. of games into a 5 lb. set of fields than to insist that games end after 90, or 85, or 75, or however many minutes? Even fewer if there were rain delays that prevented games from being played on time?

While time limits themselves are an affront to the game, where the real problems come in is when coaches start all kinds of tomfoolery to take advantage of the disparity between the rules and the consequences of time limits.

You know the ones: the visitors are on the field clinging to a two-run lead and want to either take advantage of “drop dead” rules (where the inning ends when the buzzer goes off) or the “no new inning” rule. So the visiting coach makes a pitching change, then a catching change, then goes out for an unnecessary circle visit for the new pitcher to run time off the clock.

In another instance, the home team is clinging to a one-run lead with five minutes left on the clock so their coach has each hitter go to the plate only to suddenly discover she needs to tie her shoes in a manner not seen since preschool.

Yeah, like this.

If that isn’t enough, the third base coach will pull a hitter in for a conference which, judging by the length, has them discussing how to bring peace to the Middle East.

People on the sidelines will ask why the umpires aren’t doing anything to hurry the game along, but there is actually nothing they can do because there are no rules about what you can do in the last five minutes of the game – because the game isn’t supposed to have a last five minutes!

Duh!

It’s a mess for sure. But I have an idea for how to solve this issue. It’s actually brilliant in its simplicity.

All other sports that have time limits have the time broken into even blocks – quarters, halves, periods, etc. So why not do the same for softball?

If you’re going to have time limits, don’t have one limit for the whole game. Set a time limit for each inning.

If you want games completed in 90 minutes, break the game into 15 minute innings (7.5 for each side plus one minute for each transition). You will still get at least five innings in, but you will eliminate the need for coaches to pull those bush league stalling stunts.

Half innings can also end after three outs, and the remaining time (if any) goes toward the other team’s next inning unless it’s the end of the game. So if the visitors get the home team out in three innings, the remaining time gets added to their upcoming offensive inning, giving both sides an incentive to play their best every inning.

What happens if you’re in the middle of inning with bases loaded when the time expires? Sorry, the inning is over, just like if a basketball team is on a scoring run when the half ends.

Now, you will have to work in some sort of stalling penalty if one team jumps out to a big lead in the first or second inning and then tries to rob the other team of their at-bats. I think it will be pretty obvious if it keeps happening, in which case if the umpire judges it is intentional he/she can award the stalling team’s minutes to other side. That should help keep everyone honest for most of the game anyway.

It’s not an ideal solution, I know. It could be very difficult to manage, especially at first when teams aren’t used to having to play “beat the clock” throughout the entire game.

But as I said before, it’s the way every other game with a clock works. So why not softball?

And maybe, just maybe, if this approach causes such havoc and a sufficient volume of complaints the powers that be will outlaw not only inning time limits but the whole ability to impose time limits at all.

Then their only choice would be to reduce the number of innings in a game for that tournament which, while still not ideal, would be more in keeping with the spirit of the game. It might mean taking on a couple fewer teams into the tournament, but with the proliferation of tournaments these days I doubt anyone would be left without a place to play.

Sure, hosting organizations might make a little less money, or have to reduce the bragging rights about how many teams they have in the tournament. But I’m sure they’ll find another way to make up that lost revenue – or learn they can live without it.

Mull this idea over and let me know in the comments what you think. If nothing else it will give softball parents one less thing to complain about on Monday mornings.

Scoreboard clock image Wyatt Determan, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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