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Some College Baseball Players May Be Using Illegally Doctored Composite Bats

May 27, 2009 07:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
With the NCAA baseball tournament starting Friday, the use of potentially doctored composite bats has been called into question.

College Players Suspected of Tampering With Composite Bats

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Since 1974 college players have been allowed to use metal bats; they have traditionally used aluminum bats, but in the past several years composite bats have become popular. Last year Fresno State used Easton composite bats on its way to a stunning College World Series championship, tying the record for runs scored in the series.

The performance of composite bats is similar to that of aluminum bats, but composite bats are much easier to doctor. Using techniques such as bat shaving and rolling, a player is able to create “juiced” bats that exceed the performance standards set by baseball organizations. Bat doctoring has been prevalent in men’s softball, but the practice is suspected to be growing in youth and college leagues, says both Kettering University professor Daniel A. Russell, and the Birmingham News’s Jon Solomon.

Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin recently questioned whether the bat of Tennessee’s Cody Hawn, who hit an estimated 500-foot home run against Vandy, had been tampered with. Corbin, who does not allow his team to use composite bats, thinks that many players are using illegal “rolled” bats.

“The more you start seeing it, the more you think something’s up,” he said, according to the Birmingham News.

However, writes Solomon, the Southeastern Conference did little to investigate whether Hawn’s bat was legal and the NCAA has only just begun investigating the issue. The NCAA and several individual conferences are expected to seriously discuss the issue this summer.

“The NCAA has become aware that certain companies are offering to ‘roll’ or ‘shave’ non-wood bats with the intent to increase the performance of the bat, and it seems to be occurring mainly in composite bats,” said NCAA spokesman Ty Halpin to The Tennessean.

Analysis: Composite bat tampering

Composite bats, made from carbon and glass fiber materials, offer several advantages over an aluminum bat, explains Russell, who in a 2004 test found that composite bats produced the highest batted-ball speeds.

Composite bats have the balance point closer to the handle than an aluminum bat of similar size and weight, making it easier to swing. They also have a greater “trampoline effect,” where the “barrel of the bat essentially acts as a spring during the bat-ball collision,” says Russell.

This trampoline effect increases as the bat is worn-in and the bat fibers break down. Therefore, the bats naturally improve as they are used, but it is easy for a player to quickly break in a bat using accelerated break-in techniques such as bat rolling.

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Opinion: Should composite bats be allowed in college baseball?

The use of metal bats has long been controversial, as many have argued that it produces too many home runs, leaves players ill-prepared for using wooden bats, and most importantly, increases the danger that a pitcher or other fielder could be struck by a line drive.

Composite bats have accentuated these concerns. “There is virtually no sound when a ball is hit with a rolled composite bat, thus putting pitchers and infielders at more risk of serious injury,” writes Joe Biddle of The Tennessean.

Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, told the Birmingham News that the use of doctored composite bats is a significant safety concern. “If a coach knows that a bat has been tampered with and he allows that bat to be used and there’s a serious injury, that coach should forget about coaching. Because he’s going to be sued considerably,” he said

The use of metal bats has been defended as a cost-effective alternative to wooden bats, which break more often than aluminum bats. However, composite bats are far more expensive than wooden or aluminum bats, and less durable—especially after tampering—than aluminum.

Reference: NCAA baseball tournament

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