In its spring break trip, the Hillsdale College softball team lost three extra-inning games by one run each. It’s easy to look at the box score and assume they lost because of errors or unearned runs, but what really cost the Chargers those games was an international tiebreaker rule. To promote competition and sportsmanship, the NCAA should lead the charge and call for the elimination of the tiebreaker rule.
The purpose of the rule is to speed up scoring and reduce the duration of the game. According to the official NCAA rulebook, officials put the the international tiebreaker into effect if the score is tied after the completion of at least seven innings of play. The rule states that starting at the top of the predetermined inning — typically the eighth inning — and each half-inning that follows, the offensive team places its last batted out from the previous inning on second base. If the No. 4 batter is the lead-off batter for example, then the No. 3 batter in the lineup is placed on second base. Teams can make a substitution for the base runner on second at the start of the half-inning.
Additionally, officials and coaches must agree on using the rule during the pregame meeting. Individual conferences and tournament directors also have the power to decide to use the international tiebreaker rule — this was the case with the Chargers’ games.
The NCAA, however, recommends that this rule not be put into effect until the start of the tenth inning, and for good reasons.
After 13 years of playing softball, I’ve witnessed how this rule dramatically changes the outcome of individual games.
The international tiebreaker rule undermines the spirit of competition by placing a runner in scoring position without any effort from either team.
With a runner already in scoring position at the start of each half-inning, most teams score at least one run in the eighth inning. Each team uses different strategies to score the player on second depending on their line-up and the speed of the runner.
A single to right field will typically score the base runner on second. If she’s fast, there’s no doubt she’ll score. A sacrifice bunt to move the runner followed by a sacrifice fly or a gap shot will always score the runner on second.
The away team generally scores the runner on second, and feels relieved. It takes the lead by only one run.
When the bottom of the eighth inning starts, the home team also has no trouble scoring its own player on second to tie the game. Here’s where the rule changes the game.
The home team needs one more run to win the game. All of the momentum is in its favor.
In the Chargers’ case, the home team won two of the three extra-inning games.
The home team can afford to make more substitutions on offense that could produce runs. Since its the home team, it can afford to substitute in the fastest runner on second base and the best hitters, knowing that those players will not have to play defense if it wins the game.
In travel leagues and summer ball, putting the international tiebreaker rule into effect makes sense. Softball teams will play up to five games in a single day during weekend tournaments. The tournament director needs to keep all of the games moving. In the grand scheme of life, losing one game in a 16U softball tournament because of the international tie breaker rule is not the end of the world. After all, most players have already decided where they are playing softball in college.
At the collegiate level, the rule makes a difference.
The Chargers went 4 – 10 during their spring break trip. It’s possible that they would have gone 7 – 7 if they did not play three games where the international tiebreaker rule was put into effect.
While it’s still early in the season, the Chargers are not on track to make a play-off run. Unlike travel and summer leagues, overall records matter at the collegiate level. Losing three extra-inning games at the start of the season could have an impact the Chargers at the end. Another team in the Chargers’ region that played a significantly easier schedule could earn a spot in playoffs if it has just one more win than Hillsdale.
Even though the Chargers were in a spring tournament, and the director probably wanted to keep games moving, the international tiebreaker rule has a serious impact on college teams.
The NCAA should eliminate the international tiebreaker rule altogether. It may keep the game moving, but it gives the home team a lopsided advantage, stacking all of the odds against the away team and discouraging healthy competition.
Julia Mullins is a sophomore studying Politics.