The NCAA cleared the way Tuesday for teams to start using a new baseball in 2015 in hopes of increasing the number of runs scored.
The Division I baseball committee's unanimous vote allows conferences to adopt the new ball for regular-season play. The ball, shown by researchers to fly farther, will be used during the NCAA baseball tournament in 2015.
The ball will have flat seams and be similar to the kind used in professional baseball. A raised-seam ball is now used in the college game.
Clemson's Jack Leggett and Rice's Wayne Graham led the call for a new ball after dialed-back bats, put into play in 2011, led to a drop in offense to levels not seen since the wooden-bat era before 1974. An American Baseball Coaches Association survey this fall found that 87 percent of coaches who responded wanted to make the change.
"When a guy nails a ball really good and squares up on it, a ball that should be a home run should be a home run and not wind up on the warning track," ABCA executive director Dave Keilitz said.
The decline in offense has been most visible on the game's biggest stage, the College World Series. Last year, there were three home runs hit in 14 games — the fewest since there were two in 1966. The .234 CWS batting average was the lowest since it was .227 in 1974, the year metal bats replaced wood.
The CWS moved to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011, the same year the new bat standards went into effect. The dimensions are identical to those at the old Rosenblatt Stadium, though TD Ameritrade sits lower and the wind typically blows in.
Those dynamics aren't enough to explain the disparity in offensive numbers. There was an average of 33 home runs over the last 10 years the CWS was played at Rosenblatt. There have been a total of 22 home runs hit at TD Ameritrade Park in three years.
The committee's decision affects only the height of the seams. Other specifications remain the same.
Leggett said while he's pleased the flat-seamed ball was approved, one more change is needed. He said a slightly harder core in the ball, matching the specs of the minor-league ball, would give an additional bump to offense but wouldn't risk player safety.
"Trust me, we've taken batting practice with the minor-league ball, and it's not like balls are flying out," Leggett said. "It just helps to get the ball off to the gap. It'll make a difference but not something so noticeable it would change the game drastically."
The 2013 CWS statistics reflected what happened during the season. Entering the CWS the national batting average of .274 was the lowest since 1975 (.273), team scoring of 5.28 runs a game was the lowest since 1973 (5.07) and team home runs per game of 0.42 was lowest since 1973 (0.42).
Washington State researchers found that flat-seamed balls launched at a typical home-run trajectory traveled about 387 feet compared with raised-seam balls that went about 367 feet. The findings were duplicated in research by Rawlings, the primary ball manufacturer for colleges.
The baseball committee was more concerned about the overall dip in offense than about the decrease in home runs, said chairman Dennis Farrell, commissioner of the Big West Conference. He said outfielders will have to play deeper, creating bigger gaps, because of the potential for longer ball flight.
"How many more home runs it leads to," he said, "we have no way of knowing."