MIAA rule changes coming for 2019-20 school year

  • Frontier pitcher Ben Arnold (3) throws against Taconic in the bottom of the fourth inning during the WMass Div. III championship on Saturday at Earl Lorden Field at UMass Amherst, June 16, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield pitcher Owen Phelps delivers a pitch this spring against Frontier. MIAA baseball schools will see some changes, including a pitch count, for its 2020 campaign. Staff FILE PHOTO/Dan Little

  • Frontier's Aaron Landry runs the ball during action last year. Some slight changes to MIAA football are coming in 2019-2020. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Athol's Kris Selanis (36) hits an RBI single in the bottom of the third inning against Mohawk on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 in Athol. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Athol pitcher Mark Ferrari (32) throws against Mohawk in the top of the third inning on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 in Athol. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2018 10:14:26 PM

Change is coming to the MIAA next year.

The organization voted earlier this week to officially adopt National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules for football, baseball and volleyball for the 2019-2020 school year. The MIAA’s Board of Directors approved the change by a 10-1 vote, cementing the Tournament Management Committee’s unanimous 19-0 vote back in March to use the Federation rules for all eligible sports.

The changes still have some time before they are implemented in the fall of 2019. While many of the differences between individual sports’ current rule books and the NFHS rule books are minor, there will undoubtedly be some transition throughout the MIAA landscape.

Baseball, in particular, has the potential for some sweeping changes. Most notably, the federation rules include a pitch count, something Massachusetts currently does not have as it mostly follows Major League Baseball’s rule book. The NFHS pitch count calls for a four-day rest period if a player throws between 76-105 pitches. The maximum pitches a player can throw in one game is 105. The tiered system equates to different required days of rest depending on pitching numbers.

“It will change the high school game, no question,” admitted Franklin Tech head coach Brian Winslow of the expected pitch count. “It’ll force teams to be a little more creative in what they’re doing. It’s going to force a lot of coaches to think a lot more. There are some differences that coaches are going to have to adjust to. I hope it’s done right and implemented the right way.”

Presently, Massachusetts is the only state in the country that does not follow the federation’s required rest days system. Along with Connecticut, it is the only state that does not have a pitch count at the high school level.

“The MIAA wants to standardize everything. They want to make it as simple for coaches as possible,” began Winslow. “From a practical standpoint, they’re right. Going to just one rule book that the whole country is following makes some sense. Now that the whole state will soon be following it, we’ll be on the same page. I get it. It’s just going to take a bit of adjusting.”

There is some familiarity locally at the high school level with a pitch count. American Legion implemented a pitch count at the state level for the first time this summer, and Greenfield Post 81 manager Kyle Phelps said despite the rule change, it wound up being a positive experience for his club.

“I was a little skeptical about it at first but overall it was great,” offered Phelps of the rule change. “There was a lot of positive feedback from the coaches in the league. All the pitchers were stronger by the end of the summer. It took them a little getting used to but it’s all for the safety of the kids’ arms.”

 The legion rules were similar, in that the maximum number of pitches was also 105 in any game, and the top range that resulted in four days of mandatory rest was 81-105 pitches.

“You start to weigh the options a little sooner than you normally would,” Phelps said. “You have to win the game at hand but you do find yourself looking ahead a lot more. It does make you create more of a bullpen for your staff.”

In volleyball, minimal changes are coming. The sport, which currently uses the NCAA rule book with a few modifications, is one of just two states (New York) that doesn’t fall in line with federation rules.

“It’s not exactly what I would’ve liked to have happened, but the differences are not as extreme as they used to be between the (NCAA and NFHS rules),” explained Frontier girls’ volleyball coach Sean MacDonald. “Next year, I’ll tell my team what the differences are so they’re aware of them. We’ll adapt how we coach and play a bit, but it won’t be a huge, noticeable difference for fans.”

Rule changes for volleyball include players not being allowed to stand at the end of the bench area, something that Frontier is well-known for during the season. Rule-wise, players will be able to let their tosses for serves drop and hit the ground if they don’t like the throw. Currently, when tossing the ball up to start a point, players must then hit the ball before it hits the ground.

“A lot of the changes are minimal, but there are going to be changes that everyone — players, coaches, officials — are going to have to adjust to (in 2019),” said MacDonald. “Now that it’s going to be happening, the volleyball coaches and officials are each going to talk in their own groups and a little between the groups, and say, ‘Hey, what would be the things that I’d want to ask for as far as sensible modifications to make.’ And then we'll come back and try and make it all work sensibly for all parties involved.”

On the gridiron, Massachusetts and Texas are the only states in the country that currently follow the NCAA rule book. The NFHS rule book for the sport puts an emphasis on extra measures for safety, with a lot of the key differences coming in regards to blocking — clipping, chop blocking, etc.

“I think there’s been discussion around moving to federation rules so the MIAA decided, let’s just make the move so that we don’t have this confusion where baseball plays by MLB rules, football by NCAA rules, other sports by NFHS rules,” began Franklin Tech football coach and athletic director Joe Gamache. “I would imagine that all blocking has to be above the waist with their rules. Right now, you don’t necessarily have to be, you can cut block as long as you start inside the tackle box. We’ll have to adjust to a few things.”

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