June 27, 2022

Runner’s Lane Interference at 2022 College World Series Changes Everything

Runner’s Lane Interference at 2022 College World Series Changes Everything

In the final game of the 2022 College World Series between Ole Miss and Oklahoma, a video replay enforced the penalty for the violation of runner’s lane interference.  With such a significant game on the line, it was touted as controversial, but applying the rule from the NCAA it is actually a very easy call.

 

Let’s break down the rule as there are a few considerations to take into account:

First, the runner must be beyond the halfway point for this rule to be in effect.  This collision occurred almost at 1stbase so this consideration does apply.

NCAA Rule 7, Section 11 (p) : In running the last half of the distance from home plate to first base while the ball is being fielded to first base, the batter-runner runs outside the 3-foot restraining line or inside the foul line and, in so doing, interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, except that the batter may go outside these lines to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball

Secondly, the runner must be running illegally up to 1st base.   The runners requirement begins at the last half of the runners lane or the 45’ mark in this case.  In order to be legally in the lane, BOTH feet must be within the lane. The chalk IS considered within the lane.  Frequently, coaches and players will argue that one foot in the lane (right step) and one foot outside (left step) is legally within the lane, but this is not correct.  Either you have both feet in the box or you are out of the box.  So a runner coming directly up the line is, technically, out of the runner’s lane and running illegally.

It should be noted that the home plate umpire typically is the one to make this call because he can look directly up the line and easily see if the runner is running legally within the lane although it seems unusual that an official so far away comes into the play to make the call while you have another umpire in such close proximity to first base.

NCAA Rule 7, Section 11 (p) Note 2: The batter-runner is considered outside this 3-foot lane if either foot is outside either line.

Finally, not only must the runner be running illegally, but also he must interfere.  A runner who runs up the grass to 1st base (illegal), but doesn’t interfere with the fielder receiving the ball at 1st is NOT guilty of Runner’s Lane Interference.  As such, umpires will simply allow play to continue.  However, in the College World Series play the runner did contact the 1st baseman causing him to drop the ball.  This IS considered interference.  Contact is not necessary between the runner and the fielder, but it certainly makes it a more obvious call for the umpires.  The umpire may simply judge that the fielder did not have an opportunity to catch the ball as a result of the potential collision.   It is generally accepted that a throw must be catchable in order to invoke this penalty, but umpires will side with the defense in this judgement more often than not if the runner was illegal running up the lane.   The NCAA rule adds a clause which does not exist in the MLB rule book (Rule 5.09 (a) (11)) or the NFHS book ( Rule 8 Section 4 Article 1 (g))  which is “hinders or alters the throw of a fielder.” As a result, in NCAA a non-catchable throw could be more easily adjudged as interference by an umpire who believes that the position of the runner prevented or altered the fielder from making a catchable throw.

NCAA Rule 7, Section 11 (p) Note 1: If the batter-runner is running illegally to first base and his being outside the lane alters the throw of a fielder, hinders or alters a fielder’s opportunity to field the throw, or the batter-runner is hit by the throw that has been made in an attempt to make a play, it shall be called interference and the batter-runner is to be called out.

There is an exception to being required to run in the runners lane  which frequently comes into play in this scenario.  The rule book affords for the batter-runner to “exit” the lane with a step, stride or slide in order to touch 1st base.  Afterall, 1st base is actually in fair territory and this rule requires the runner to run in foul territory.  However, the key word in this rule book exception is “exit”.  It is ruled that a runner cannot “exit” that which he has never entered.  As a result, a runner who has been running the length of the runner’s lane illegally will not be given the protection of this rule book exception when interference occurs within the last step of the base.   Only a runner who has been legally within the lane can exit the lane and receive such protection.  However, it is not required for the runner to be within the runners lane the entire time up to 1st base.  The runner may enter the lane at the 50’ mark, the 60’ mark or even the 80’ mark as long as both feet have established themselves within the lane, and no interference with the throw or catch has occurred up to this point in time.  Once the runner is legally in the lane, he can now exit the lane at 1st base and receive the protection afforded by the rules.

NCAA Rule 7, Section 11 Exception—The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot running lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base and for the sole purpose of touching first or attempting to avoid a tag. He may exit the running lane on his last stride or step if he has been running legally within the running lane up to that point.

 Runner’s Lane Interference creates an immediate dead ball, and the penalty for such infraction is that the batter-runner is called “out.” There can be additional penalties on the runners, but placing the other runners might depend on what level of baseball you are playing.

In MLB and NCAA,  runners are returned to their position they occupied at the time of the pitch unless an exception applies. (MLB Rule 6.01 (a) (11) / NCAA Rule 2 Section 51 Note 2) 

In the College World Series game, this was significant as it took a run off the scoreboard as the runner from third base was returned to third after the call of Runner’s Lane Interference.

The exception which may apply is something known as an “intervening play.” This is when there is first an attempt to throw out a runner advancing from third at home, unsuccessfully, prior to the throw to first base wherein you have  Runner’s Lane Interference.  In this instance, the runner’s final position will be that of their time as of the actual Runner’s Lane Interference.  With less than two outs, you would allow the runner from third to score.  If there were two outs at the time of pitch, the run, however,  still would not count as the batter-runner would have made the third out prior to obtaining first base preventing any runs from scoring on the play.

NFHS does not recognize an intervening play.  NFHS (High School) Rule 8 Section 4 Article 2 Penalty provides that runners remain at their base last achieved at the time of interference so high school players would more frequently have runners score from third.  In all levels of baseball, including NFHS, with two outs and the batter runner making the third out prior to obtaining first base, no runs may score, regardless of the timing of the runners touching home.

So let’s wrap this up, and recap the play from the College World Series.

  1. The batter-runner was running illegally to first, and thus not afforded any protection on his last step before the base
  2. The batter-runner caused interference with the fielder taking the throw
  3. There was no intervening play prior to the Runner’s Lane Interference
  4. The batter-runner is out, and all other runners are returned to their position as of the time of pitch

When you understand the rules in play, the ruling is quite simple and there is no controversy…

Tim Zemaitis

Special to Baseball Rules Academy

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