STEPPING UP: My Take: NCHSAA needs protest rule change

Published 11:04 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014





Washington Daily News


Last weekend’s unprecedented umpire fowl up in a softball state playoff game between Washington and Bunn has left players upset and head coach Doug Whitehead confounded. Athletic Director Allison Jones says the team as a whole can use this incident as a learning experience to fight through future adversity, but it’s going to take some time before the Pam Pack can shake off such a heart-wrenching loss.

On Monday, two NCHSAA softball umpires were suspended for the remainder of the playoffs and next season’s playoffs after a misinterpretation of the conference rule (Article 1, Rule 3, Section 7) in Saturday’s contest. In a tie game, Junior ace Haley Hutchins was removed by the umpires in the bottom of the seventh inning with no outs and the bases loaded after Whitehead visited the mound for the second time in the frame. Unlike MLB and Little League rules, high school softball coaches have the option of visiting the mound twice in the inning without being required to remove their pitcher, as long as it’s not the third visit of regulation.

While no one can predict whether or not having Hutchins on the mound would have made a difference in the outcome of the game, Whitehead has relied on his ace in big-game situations for all of this season. Freshman Hailey Harris, who relieved Hutchins, has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but was not the best chance Washington had of escaping that late-inning jam.

Despite the team, fans and school’s obvious displeasure, Whitehead and Jones have been class acts in terms of voicing their opinion, both realizing that no matter what they say, the outcome will not change. If anything, it could make matters worse, so they’ve remained silent.

The NCHSAA’s protest protocol for softball and other sports, however, is something that needs to be addressed. Whitehead was denied the opportunity to form a committee mid-game, and the call was not reversed as a result. No matter the sport, leagues and game officials want to get the call right.

The NCHSAA’s current policy states that it does not accept or rule on game protests. Any controversial call or incident – by rule – should be addressed by a committee of five, organized prior to the start of the game. So, when Whitehead attempted to form one mid-game, the umpires denied his request. That system is hardly the best way to get the call correct. If anything, it provides an easy way out of sticky situations for the NCHSAA.

This year, MLB implemented a system where umpires from all around the country have the ability to call a central hub for officiating in New York. There, a crew of veteran umpires, who have likely already viewed the play prior to the call, provide game umpires with the correct ruling, found through instant replay.

Bringing in a team of veteran MLB umpires to monitor high school softball playoff games is something you might see in a Kevin Costner movie, but would be an impossibility – not to mention a waste of resources – for the NCHSAA.

However, that doesn’t mean North Carolina high school sports can’t learn from their more established counterpart. The NCHSAA needs to devise a system where it can, in fact, accept and rule upon protests made by coaches.

Forget the idea of having teams of officials, televised games and instant replay for a second. Strip the concept down to its core. What’s left is umpire’s ability to call the league office during a game.

Imagine if Washington had that option on Saturday. All it would have taken was a simple phone call to someone well versed in N.C. high school softball rules and this situation would have been avoided entirely.

A system like that could certainly fit into the budget of the NCHSAA.

When it comes down to it, umpires are human. There’s no rule stating they have to be perfect.

By suspending the officials and not addressing the outcome of the game, the league admits to a mistake being made, but uses inadequate rules as an excuse not to do the right thing.