College Baseball Needs Wooden Bats Before Aluminum Bats Ruin the Game Anymore
Ping-ping-ping-ping. Do you hear that? It's the sound of aluminum bats sending home runs out of the park during the men's College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
The use of aluminum bats is possibly the most annoying part of NCAA baseball and maybe the most annoying on-field aspect of any NCAA sport in general. The ridiculousness of college players using juiced-up bats to hit the ball — when every level of professional baseball and even the elite college summer leagues use wooden bats — is as stupid as it gets.
There's no reason NCAA baseball should continue to use aluminum bats and keep up the ridiculous facade of juiced-up numbers for players who are just months away from becoming pros themselves. The NCAA has ruined a pretty good thing, one tricked-out bat at a time. But this doesn't have to mean the end of college baseball.
The Basics About Aluminum Bats
The basics about aluminum bats and their prevalent use in NCAA baseball boils down to this — they're easier to swing, and when you make contact, the ball goes farther than it would with a wood bat.
You could even go so far as to say that while the actions of swinging a wooden bat and an aluminum bat may appear the same, they are not.
The discipline it takes to hit with a wooden bat is a world of difference from the lack of discipline it takes to hit with an aluminum bat. It's essentially pumping steroids into a piece of sports equipment.
A deeper look into the history of aluminum bats shows the NCAA doesn't know heads from tails.
Why Does the NCAA Use Aluminum Bats?
The NCAA started using aluminum bats in 1974 in response to the rising cost of wooden bats and the cost of replacing broken bats during the season.
Just like Astroturf replacing grass (ask us how that went), the powers that be patted themselves on the back when they first made this decision — mainly because technology hadn't advanced enough.
So it was penny-pinching that got us here in the first place.
The first aluminum bats used on the NCAA level were heavier, like wooden bats, so the statistical impact wasn't really felt. Over the next decade, advances in aluminum alloys changed the composition of bats. Bats were no longer aluminum all the way through like the originals (think of how heavy softball bats are). That means the original reason for moving to aluminum bats no longer made sense.
NCAA's Bastardized Version of Baseball
By 1986, the NCAA realized aluminum bats were starting to change the game in ways they hadn't anticipated because of the advancements. As a result, they put weight restrictions on aluminum bats that regulated exploding stats somewhat. But this did not last for long.
Fast-forward another decade to the late 1990s, and more advancements in aluminum bats were dicing up NCAA record books. In 1999, the NCAA adopted the Ball-Exit-Speed-Ratio (BESR), which essentially regulated bat barrels vs. length with predetermined values. According to The Bat Nerds:
- Non-wood bat barrels would be 2 5/8 inches thick at most.
- In length, these bats should’ve been no more than 36 inches long and no more than 3 oz less than the bat’s weight (e.g., a bat that was 33-inches long should weigh 30 ounces at its lightest).
Within a decade, composite bats (not just using aluminum anymore, folks) totally changed the game and were banned by the NCAA. Composite bats use a reinforced fiber polymer, or composite, in the bat's construction. This composite material produces a trampoline effect that helps balls jump off the bat and caused the rules to change once again.
The NCAA Has Been Making Terrible Decisions Since 1974
Two years after the NCAA banned composite bats in 2009, the NCAA adopted a new standard in 2011 — the BBCOR standard. BBCOR stands for Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution and is used to certify the performance of composite baseball bats.
In other words, BBCOR allowed composite bats to be used in college baseball again. But the bats have to meet BBCOR standards, meaning that whatever type of bat NCAA teams use (metal or composite bats), they are not allowed to generate more batted ball speed than wooden bats.
From the BBCOR standard: "To initiate the certification process for all baseball bats that are constructed with materials other than one-piece solid wood, an interested bat manufacturer must send one of the NCAA Certification Centers written notice of its intent to request certification testing on specific models it deems appropriate for testing."
This begs the question. How can the NCAA regulate performance in this way? In the history of dumb rule decisions, this one is up there.
How can you regulate batted ball speed when the athletes themselves are the ones who determine the outer edge of that statistic? God forbid another Barry Bonds comes along. Are you going to penalize him for hitting the ball too hard?
Smart move, NCAA.
Wooden Bats Could Save College Baseball
If the people that run college baseball were smart (and we're not assuming they are), they'd adopt wooden bats on the principle of reviving an underappreciated sport. The regulation on bats in 2011 led to plummeting stats. This led the NCAA to change the raised-seam ball to a flat-seam ball in 2015 to try and pick up the scoring pace.
Well, the scoring pace has picked up. Now home runs are flying out of college ballparks at a record pace. Entering the 2022 College World Series, there have been 424 home runs hit in regionals and super regionals of the NCAA tournament. That's already a tournament record, with at least 14 games to be played in the CWS.
Almost 20 teams have hit 100 or more home runs this season. In Division I, home runs per game per team since the start of the season is 1.02. That's the highest it's been since the record 1.06 in 1998 and only the second time the figure has been 1.0 or higher. The Division I home run rate was 0.85 per game in 2021 after jumping from 0.75 per game in 2019, the last full college season before the COVID-19 pandemic.
So why isn't college baseball a bigger deal? Outside of the SEC, Big-12 and some Pac-12 schools — where teams still have strong attendance figures — there aren't a lot of loyal fanbases in college baseball. Almost 50 years after the introduction of aluminum bats to NCAA baseball, the chickens have finally come home to roost, and interest in the sport at a national level is at an all-time low.
In 2021, Mississippi State's run to the men's College World Series championship had an average of 755,000 viewers on ESPN networks. This was down 32 percent from the previous CWS in 2019, which averaged 1.11 million viewers.
That's all compared to the Women's College World Series, which averaged a record 1.2 million viewers in 2021.
College baseball isn't dead, but the NCAA has only itself to blame for the state of the game.
And aluminum bats.
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