he National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Softball Rules Committee adopted the designated player/FLEX rule at its annual meeting June 8-9 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The change to Rule 3-1-5 replaces the designated hitter (DH) rule with the designated player (DP)/FLEX rule. Under the rule change, the role of the offensive player is never terminated. It is now possible for a team to go from 10 to nine players and back to 10 players any number of times during the game. The DP and the FLEX (defensive player for whom the DP is batting) now also have the option of playing defense at the same time. The DH rule did not allow for the offensive player, the DH, and the player for whom she was batting, to play defense simultaneously.
"The DP/FLEX rule is not mandatory, but optional, and provides coaches with more flexibility in their lineups," said Mary Struckhoff, NFHS assistant director and liaison to the NFHS Softball Rules Committee. "A coach can elect not to use the DP/FLEX at all, use it as he or she previously used the DH, or use it to its fullest extent. Five states (Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico and Pennsylvania) experimented with the DP/FLEX rule last year and provided the committee with positive feedback regarding its implementation."
In other changes, Rule 2-4-3 adds a definition for a banned bat, which is not currently covered in the Softball Rules Book. The NFHS follows the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) standards for softball bats. Under ASA standards, all bats must pass a performance test to be approved for use. ASA has banned bats that were once approved, but no longer meet the performance specifications.
Rule 2-47-2 enforces a rule that has been interpreted, but has not been covered, in the rules book. This rule adds a definition of "make a play" as it pertains to the "look-back" rule. To "make a play" is defined as "any action by the pitcher, intended to cause a reaction from the runner(s)."
In addition to the above changes, the committee, which is composed of a voting member from each of the eight NFHS sections, an NFHS Coaches Association representative, an NFHS Officials Association representative, and committee chairperson Ralph Swearngin, clarified wording that has caused confusion.
An editorial change to Rule 4-2-3 deletes the examples of game-ending procedures to eliminate confusion. According to Struckhoff, when states adopt game-ending procedures, they communicate to their coaches and umpires the guidelines to be followed. The examples in the rules book caused confusion when they were different than the state adopted procedures.
In another editorial change, Rule 8-9-2 now states that the pitcher or catcher must bat and reach base legally in order to be eligible for a courtesy runner.
Softball is the fourth-most popular sport for girls at the high school level with 355,807 participants during the 2001-02 season, according to the High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the NFHS. It also ranks fourth in school sponsorship for girls, with 13,807 schools offering the sport.