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lawump

All Good Things Must Come to an End

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So, with the conclusion of this year's NFHS Baseball Rules Committee meeting in Indianapolis, my four-year term on the committee has come to an end.  I am proud to have served, and I met a lot of people who have a deep commitment to prep baseball and who have become lifelong friends.

With that said, I wanted to write a post that explains how the baseball committee process works.  There is a lot of bashing of the rules committee on social media (not so much this site...but a lot on other sites).  I thought I could give an insider's perspective on how the process works.  Like any endeavor, my tenure on the committee had some lows, but it had a lot more highs.

There are 11 voting members of the committee.  First, there are 8 members who represent the NFHS' eight sections.  (The NFHS divides the country into eight sections.)  I represented Section Three which has nine states in the Southeast United States.  Next, there is one member who represents the National Federation's officials association (an umpire) and one member who represents the National Federation's coaches' association (a head coach at a high school).  Finally, there is a voting chairman (the committee chairman is almost always an executive in some state's high school league office).  One knock that I see a lot is that there have never been enough umpires on the committee.  This is actually false.  During my tenure on the board, there have actually been an average of six (out of 11) umpires on the committee.  

During the year, any state can make a rule change proposal.  In fact, you (meaning the person reading this post) can make a rule change proposal.  You would need to propose the rule change to your state's high school association.  If they agreed with your proposal, they can then submit it on your behalf to the NFHS for consideration by the Baseball Rules Committee.  

Each June, the Baseball Rules Committee meets in Indianapolis to discuss (sometimes "debate" is a better word) all of the rule change proposals submitted during the prior year.  The deadline for submitting proposals is sometime in early May.  During the meeting, the committee can ONLY vote on rule changes that were proposed before the deadline.  That is, the committee cannot propose its own rule changes during the meeting.  If a committee member wants to change a rule, he has to submit it before the deadline. 

After the submission deadline, but before the committee's June meeting, every state office is sent all rule change proposals.  The state offices can then contact their representative on the committee and direct their representative how they want them to vote.  Of course, in a section like mine (with 9 states) all of the states may not agree with one another on each proposal.  In which case, I would have to use my own judgment when voting.  However, if a clear majority of states in my section instructed me to vote a certain way...I'd have to vote that way.  This is because I represent the interests of my section's states on the committee.  During my four years on the committee, I would send all of the rule proposals to my nine state offices every May asking them for their opinions or directions as to how I should vote.  Some years, I would only hear back from 2 or 3 states.  Other years, I heard back from a lot more.  

At our meeting in June, we would discuss/debate the rule change proposals.  Finally, we'd vote on them.  Additionally, if the baseball rules committee felt that there were issues in the sport that needed to be addressed, but did not require a rule change, we could vote to insert new plays into the casebook.  Since casebook plays are not "rule changes", but rather are interpretations of existing rules, they are not required to be submitted to the states ahead of time.  And, in fact, it is common for the committee to draft and adopt a new casebook play(s) after having a discussion on a particular issue when we felt we could deal with the issue with a casebook play rather than have to wait to submit a rule change proposal the following year.

Now, we get to the part of which many are ignorant:  When the rules committee passes a rule change, it must be approved by 2 1/2 other committees.  I say "2 1/2" because three other committees actually look at the rule changes the rules committee passed, but only two of those can actually reject or approve those rule changes.  The third committee is the Sports Medicine Committee.  They review our changes and only give an opinion as to whether or not an approved rule change poses an increase risk of injury to the student-athletes.  The sports medicine committee doesn't actually approve or reject a rule change the rules committee has made.  However, I guarantee you that if the sports medicine committee gives an opinion that a rules change (approved by the rules committee) poses an unreasonably higher risk of injury to the student-athletes, then one of the other two committees is going to reject our rule change.  [As an aside, let me state that the Sports Medicine Committee does some incredible work.  First, they have some of the most famous sports-medicine people in the country on the committee.  Second, they do some incredible research.  Third, they really do care about the students and their safety.  In fact, I ended my tenure on the rules committee believing that the work the NFHS does for student safety through its sports medicine committee is perhaps the NFHS' greatest contribution to sports in this country.]

Next, the rules changes that passed the baseball rules committee are then reviewed by the "rules review committee".  This committee is comprised entirely of NFHS employees.  They are basically all of the rules editors for all of the different sports.  So, the baseball rules editor (an NFHS employee who sits in during the NFHS baseball rules committee meeting) has to defend the rule changes we passed to his colleagues (who are the rules editors for all of the other sports.)  It was explained to me by someone with a lot of history working with the NFHS, that the purpose of this committee is to make sure that a sport's rules committee doesn't go off the deep end and make a bunch of crazy rule changes.  The "rules review committee" basically serves as a check to make sure that the baseball rules committee, for instance, can't be hijacked by a group of like-minded people who then makes wholesale changes to the baseball rulebook which then fundamentally and drastically changes the nature of the sport.  When the "rules review committee" looks at the rule changes passed by the baseball rules committee, they look to make sure that the "balance between offense and defense as it should exist in that particular sport is maintained", that player safety is not adversely affected, and that the sport itself is not being drastically changed without just cause (among other things).  If this committee rejects a rule change that the rules committee made...then the change is dead.  When the "rules review committee" rejects a rule change that was passed by the rules committee, they sometimes explain why they rejected the rule change...and sometimes they provide no explanation.

Finally, any rule changes that were approved by the "rules review committee" must then be approved by the NFHS "Executive Committee".  This committee is almost always comprised of the executive directors of various state high school associations.  I am not familiar with what this committee does when reviewing the approved rule changes, but I think most of the time they will approve the rule changes as long as the sports medicine and "rules review committee" have signed off on them.

In summary, the NFHS is a bureaucracy...there is no doubt about that.  Like anything, that has pluses and minuses.  It goes without saying that the NFHS does some great work. 

What sometimes frustrated me is that before one bashes the baseball rules committee, one should know that sometimes the baseball rules committee is not the entity with which you have your disagreement.  Sometimes, we pass a change to the rules that umpires overwhelmingly want, but it gets rejected by the "rules review committee" or "executive committee".  I can tell you (without going into details) that this has happened during my tenure more than once.

Nothing posted here is confidential.  In fact, the NFHS has buried somewhere on their website a video as to how the rules writing process occurs (found it: https://www.nfhs.org/sports-resource-content/rules-writing-process-video/).  Since there is hardly a week that goes by in which the rules committee isn't getting bashed somewhere on the internet, I just thought I'd post how things actually work (since I doubt most umpires know...and most don't know about the video).

It was a great four-years.  I appreciate all of you who communicated with me (especially by private messaging) over those four years so I could know what umpires from across the country were thinking.

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Is there discussion between you and your represented states, or do they simply tell you their desires, your thoughts be damned?

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29 minutes ago, Matt said:

Is there discussion between you and your represented states, or do they simply tell you their desires, your thoughts be damned?

Both have occurred.

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Where did getting rid of the "dead ball balk" die?  We told our state rep on the rules committee (whose term is also up) that he had one job to do: get rid of the dead ball balk.  His biggest regret was that he was unable to make it happen.  Who derailed that effort and why?

Just askin'. 

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2 hours ago, ousafe said:

Where did getting rid of the "dead ball balk" die?  We told our state rep on the rules committee (whose term is also up) that he had one job to do: get rid of the dead ball balk.  His biggest regret was that he was unable to make it happen.  Who derailed that effort and why?

Just askin'. 

The vast majority of amateur umpires who would kick that rule. 

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