Stevens: NCAA calls for wooden bats in Division II
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on May 21, 2010 1:47 PM
The unmistakable sound of a baseball colliding with an aluminum bat is one synonymous with college baseball.
That sound, at least on the Division II level, may soon be a distant memory.
The NCAA recently announced that it is considering a move to wooden bats for all of Division II as early as 2012.
The Northeast-10 Conference has been using wood in league games since 2002, and the other two conferences in the Northeast region -- the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and the East Coast Conference -- followed suit a few years later. Members of the three leagues liked it enough to conduct a wood-bat Northeast Regional for the first time last year.
One of the driving forces behind the NCAA's possible switch to wooden bats is cost. A quality aluminum bat can cost a minimum of $300 whereas decent wood bats start at roughly $100 and higher.
Two broken wooden bats in the course of the season can equal the cost of one aluminum bat. Mount Olive head coach Carl Lancaster isn't quite convinced a change to wooden bats would result in money saved.
"A good wood bat is going to cost $85 or more," said Lancaster. "If we switch to wood bats our guys are going to want to use the good stuff that's more expensive. We use wood bats in the fall and in the cages all the time, and there's no telling how many we go through."
Rather than a transition to wooden bats, Lancaster favors tighter standards on aluminum bats to decrease the trajectory at which a ball leaves the bat. Safety is the biggest concern for the Trojans' 24-year head coach.
"If it's a safety issue, I'm all for it," said Lancaster. "I'm constantly in fear for our pitchers. If they leave the ball in the middle of the plate the risk is unbelievable. We need standards. If you set a guideline and I'm a bat company, I'm going to get within that guideline because I want to sell my bat."
Mount Olive has averaged 64 home runs a season over the past five years and the change to wooden bats could require the Trojans to play more situational baseball inside their home confines of Scarborough Field.
"We would have to look at kids we're recruiting," said Lancaster. "The wood is not going to not leave our yard very often. We would have to try to get more kids that can run and spray the ball around."
The removal of aluminum bats could take a certain amount of pressure off of pitchers and significantly alter pro scouting. Aluminum bats often require pitchers to locate pitches with better accuracy, while creating inflated run totals and longer games.
Lancaster believes wooden bats would limit the number of Division II players drafted to play professionally. He pointed to several of his own players who have struggled to transition to a wooden bat in the minor leagues.
"If I was a pro scout I would like to see it happen," said Lancaster. "I would have a huge fear that a kid can swing an aluminum bat, but how is he going to do with wood? We've had hitters that could swing it, but they never could get the good part of a wood bat on the ball."
At the Division II Conference Commissioners Association meeting held in March, there wasn't a commissioner in the room opposed to the idea of switching to wooden bats.
Whether men in suits and ties rather than baseball uniforms and cleats ultimately make a decision that proves to be a home run for Division II baseball -- or a disappointing swing and miss -- remains to be seen.