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Little League Rule Changes Being Considered

As reported in a previous column, Little League Baseball convened its International Congress in Williamsport earlier this month. The event is held every four years and is attended by more than a thousand volunteers from around the world to chart the course of the world’s largest organized youth baseball and softball program.

During their four days in town, the delegates meet to review facets of the Little League program and pass along their recommendations to the organization’s staff and Board of Directors for the implementation of potential rule changes. Those decisions are expected to be announced by Little League officials later this summer.

While Little League can rightly claim its status as to the scope of its program worldwide, concerns have arisen regarding problems being faced by chartered leagues throughout the country. As was the case in so many organizations and businesses, COVID-19 was a game-changer as some local affiliated leagues could no longer operate while others lost player participation to the growing popularity of summer travel ball.

Of the various rules reviewed by Congress, volunteers were one that struck at the very foundation of its creation as a community program – the boundaries from which it could draw its players.

As explained by Little League, “Local League Boundaries were established to create a community-based program while maintaining competitive balance. Over time, the definition of community has changed, and the Little League International Charter Committee has processed more than 4,083 out-of-boundary waiver requests in the last two years, proving that families desire more flexibility to select the program they feel is best for their family.”

To address that “flexibility,” if passed, the following rule change will redefine how local leagues will operate.

Proposal – “Any player, regardless of age, that is registering in the Little League program for the first time is eligible to register in any Little League program. The player registration system would require;
• All players will register through a central registration system, confirming league participation.
• Players will not be required to provide proof of residency or school enrollment.
• League will be responsible for verifying league age.

Any player that elects to switch leagues will require a release from the league they last participated. Once released, the player will be eligible to participate in a new league with red-shirt eligibility, followed by full eligibility for the duration of the player’s career with Charter Committee approval.”

The proposed rule brings with it ‘sticking points’ Little League is preparing to address. 1) How will the change impact Regulation II (d), the boundary school verification provision; 2) What will be the procedure be if a league accepts an intact travel team of players league age 12 into the league for the first time; 3) Will siblings be permitted to play in a league where another sibling is playing; 4) What happens if a player decides to change leagues?

While boundary conversation was a headliner, other rule changes are also under consideration.
• District Administrators Selection System – the proposal would replace the traditional DA election system chosen by vote of the local leagues. The new system would allow District Administrators to be appointed by Little League Officials with input from elected State Directors.
• Permit league to accept 3-year-olds for T-Ball programs. Previously the age cut-off for T-ball was 4-year-olds.
• Teenage Divisions – They make up 7% of the overall Little League program. Proposal would create a structure allowing each state organization the authority to organize tournaments using approved Little League age structures and playing rules and provide flexibility from Little League International.
• Permit coaches to warm up a pitcher at home plate or in the bullpen, or elsewhere at any time.
• Run rule 4.10 (e) – this would expand the current ten-run-rule for concluding a game. If passed, a game would end after 3 innings with a 15-run lead; after 4 innings with a 10-run lead; and after 5 innings with an 8-run lead.
• Intentional Walk rule would be expanded to include Intermediate/Junior League/ and Senior League Baseball Divisions. The appropriate number of balls needed based on the count at the time of the request to walk a batter will be added to the pitch count.
• Leaving the base too soon – For Little League Major and Minor Divisions, the rule would be revised to call any runner out who leaves their base before a pitched ball has reached the batter. If detected, “no pitch” is declared, and the ball is ruled dead.

Throughout the course of its long and successful tenure, Little League has met the obstacles of minority participation, the creation of the Challenger Division, and the establishment of its softball program, all of which have resulted in more youngsters participating.

Today, while it may be the biggest, it recognizes that times have changed, and it is not the only game in town. These rules, particularly dealing with league boundary provisions, could have profound implications for future generations of players and volunteers.