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Proposal on bats sent out to schools

OMAHA, Neb. -- College baseball is getting ready to crack down on composite-barrel bats.

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee this week proposed an indefinite ban on the bats after anecdotal evidence and research conducted during this year's Division I national tournament, which culminated with the College World Series, indicated many of the bats didn't comply with NCAA standards.

NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh said the proposal is being sent to schools for comment and will be reviewed next week. A formal vote could be taken next month and, if approved, the ban would go into effect at the start of the 2010 season.

Aluminum bats have been used in college baseball since 1975 and remain the most popular choice.

Composite-barrel bats have been around since the late 1990s but have become more popular the past two seasons, said Jim Sherwood, director of the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Sherwood's laboratory is in charge of the NCAA certification process, though it did not do the research at this year's tournament.

There are different types of composite bats, each with varying amounts of graphite, fiberglass and resilient plastic, Sherwood said. Bats with composite handles and composite transition areas -- between the handle and barrel -- would still be allowed under NCAA rules if the ban is approved, Schuh said.

The beef is with the barrel, which softens over time, creating a trampoline effect. This doesn't happen to factory-fresh bats -- it's what happens later, after repeated use or after the bat is put through a process known as "rolling."

Composite-barrel bats that are broken in or "rolled" tend to have more pop and often violate NCAA limitations on the allowable speed at which the ball comes off the bat. The NCAA requires that this so-called "exit speed" be no greater than that of its wooden counterpart, lest it become a safety hazard for infielders and pitchers.

"I commend this legislation and am just elated that this is going forth," Florida State coach Mike Martin said Thursday. "You just cannot imagine how far I saw a ball hit with an altered bat."

He added: "If a guy took a bat and hit it a thousand times off a telephone pole, he'd likely bat better. That's not right."

During the Division I tournament, 20 of the 25 composite-barrel bats selected for "Ball Exit Speed Ratio" certification tests were not in compliance, the NCAA said. Because all bat designs must pass the test before mass production begins, the NCAA said, it was determined that the performance of those bats had changed, most likely because of repeated normal use or intentional alteration.

The committee said the ban should remain in place until manufacturers and the baseball community suggest ways that would allow composite-barrel bats to be used within NCAA guidelines.

There are a number of Web sites that offer to "roll" bats for about $30 apiece. Rolling, which hastens the break-in time, flattens the barrel and stretches graphite fibers so the ball propels 10 mph to 15 mph faster and, theoretically, leads to more hits.

"While the committee does not believe tampering or altering of bats is widespread, there is evidence that it has occurred," said UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Brontsema, the rules committee chairman. "The larger issue here is that the performance of composite bats improves through repeated, normal use, and these bats often exceed acceptable levels. By removing these bats from competition, we believe all bats used will be at or below acceptable levels."

Rick Redman, a spokesman for bat manufacturer Louisville Slugger, said the company's top three selling bats have aluminum barrels. He said composite-barrel bats represent a small percentage of Louisville Slugger's sales.

Officials at bat manufacturer Easton-Bell Sports did not return a phone message.