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Collisions Prompt Renewed Push for Safety Bag

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Dallis Goodnight never had much reason to care about the safety bag debate in college softball until she was given a literal crash course last weekend.

The Alabama freshman was involved in a scary collision with Kentucky first baseman Taylor Ebbs when Ebbs reached to grab a high throw following a slap to third base by Goodnight. Both players remained on the ground for a few minutes before returning to their feet and remaining in the game.

It was one of a few collisions at first base in the past few weeks that put the safety bag issue back in the spotlight. International softball uses a safety bag and many state high school associations have implemented the bag. College, however, remains an outlier.

“That made me realize there is really no reason we shouldn’t have safety bags at every university and every softball field,” Goodnight said. “It’s the easiest way to avoid an avoidable injury with the runner going full speed and the first baseman trying to make a play.”

A safety bag is an orange base that is connected to the standard white bag at first base. The first baseman uses the white bag inside the foul line and the baserunner uses the orange bag outside the foul line to minimize collisions. If runners are taking extra bases on a hit, they use the inside base.

The safety bag gives the runners a base to run through that keeps them in their running lane without having to move back into fair territory to touch the regular white bag.

Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy has been advocating for a safety bag in college for the last few years after seeing his own players and others get injured during games.

“The athletes have gotten bigger, faster and stronger and it is 60 feet. You can’t stop on a dime to avoid a fielder,” Murphy said. “I don’t know why it hasn’t happened yet. It is so silly. It is probably $300 for a safety bag vs. an ACL injury or $300 vs. a season-ending injury. It is a no-brainer.”

To get the safety bag implemented in college it would need to be approved by the NCAA Softball rules committee. Head coaches, commissioners, umpires and coordinators can submit rules proposals at any time. 

The committee works on a two-year rule cycle for NCAA softball. It meets every other year to enact rule changes supported by the NCAA membership. The next cycle is in 2023.

Once proposals are submitted, the committee reviews them and decides which ones to put forward on a rules survey that is sent to the membership. The membership is able to indicate if they are in favor of each rule proposal or not.

The rules approved by the committee are then sent back to the membership for an additional feedback opportunity before final approval by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

The rules committee surveyed the member schools about the safety bag topic last year.

“Adding a double base at first base was generally not supported by NCAA softball coaches and was therefore not advanced as a rule change,” said Vickie Van Kleeck, the NCAA Softball Secretary Rules Editor. “The Softball Rules Committee will be surveying NCAA member schools on this topic again this year and may consider this proposal during its June 2022 annual meeting.”

One additional piece of information the rules committee reviews in considering changes is injury data.

“The safety and welfare of the student-athlete is a primary emphasis of the Softball Rules Committee,” Van Kleeck said. “Use and enforcement of the runner’s lane halfway down the first base line is there to offer the runner a safe area to run in and avoid being inside the foul line where contact between the runner and defensive player is more likely to occur.”

The safety bag is used in international softball competitions.

Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson served on the rules committee as recently as 2019. She is in favor of the safety bag, and has heard varying theories about why there wasn’t a majority consensus for adding it.

“I think some if it is old-school people don’t want changes, just like when they didn’t want hockey helmets and people didn’t want the rules to change for pitching because by God this is the way it has always been done and the way it should be,” Lawson said. “I don’t know if that is playing a part, but I think eventually there will be some change.”

Given her time on the committee, Lawson appreciates all the work that goes into implementing new rules and the care taken to hear from everyone involved in college softball.

“I don’t think it’s as flippant as some are making it out to be,” Lawson said. “A lot of things go into rules getting changed and I think the membership does have a say. If the majority of the memberships says no then the rules committee has a decision to make because there is room to supersede based on player safety. There is a little bit of gray area in there.”

Ohio State head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly is “100% for the use of the safety base.”

“My first baseman had her Achilles stomped on last year as she was stretching forward. It ripped right through her sock,” Kovach Schoenly said. “As a fourth year, I’ve seen her take close to a dozen collisions in her career. She doesn’t complain about it at all.”

ESPN analyst Michele Smith spent her entire 16-year professional career in Japan playing with a safety bag. She’s been waiting for the college game to make it a requirement.

“It’s needed when games are played at the elite level where kids are running down the line in 2.5 or 2.6 seconds. That is where our college game is,” Smith said. “First baseman are coming from all different directions and second baseman are coming over as well to take bunts. There is just a lot of traffic and a lot of demand for a very small piece of real estate.”

Smith has been disheartened by some of the reasons she’s heard given for the resistance to adding the safety bag.

“Cost is an excuse. The old-school coaches’ mentality is an excuse. Everybody is quick to adapt technology and analytics, so why would you not accept a base?” Smith said. “It is a stigma. They don’t want to look rookiesh or lower leagueish. But it’s the exact opposite mindset. This is for a more advanced level of play, not a lesser level of play.”

Kovach Schoenly agrees.

“The game does not lose any integrity by using a safety base,” she said. “Maybe if we called it something else, just maybe first base people wouldn’t have a reaction to including the second part of the base. I really don’t understand why we haven’t figured this out yet.”

Along with potentially protecting a player from unintended injuries, Lawson believes the safety bag may cut down on runners being coached to run into defenders.

“Hopefully that would clean up and completely remove that intentional game-within-the-game stuff,” Lawson said. “That is deplorable. That has no place in the sport.”

Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso would prefer to see more research done before college softball considers a safety bag. She cites the steps Major League Baseball is taking to reduce injuries on the base paths by implementing a larger base size at the minor league level for 2022. The bases will increase to 18 inches by 18 inches from the 15×15 that have been used.

“I am kind of a purist,” Gasso said. “I would like to see what kind of injuries are happening now and how often before we make that decision. How much of a difference is it going to make with the safety bag? Are there still collisions? I would rather us look at what baseball is doing than going completely to a safety bag personally.”

Goodnight played with a safety bag in high school in Georgia. She didn’t understand the true value until her collision in Alabama’s game against Kentucky.

“We both got lucky that we walked away with only bumps and bruises and no major injuries. It was by the grace of God,” Goodnight said. “If there had been a safety bag, that collision would not have been straight on. It would have been a clipped shoulder or an arm maybe. It wouldn’t have been as intense.”

A few days after Goodnight’s collision, Georgia’s Sydney Chambley suffered an arm injury in a collision at first base against Clemson that jammed her glove hand.

Georgia and Alabama meet this weekend in an SEC series. Goodnight sent Chambley her best wishes for a speedy recovery. She prays that nobody else joins the collision club. 

“I just hope they are not waiting for a major injury to happen before they realize that the safety bag is needed,” Goodnight said. “I am hoping they get installed before something happens that ends someone’s season or their career.”


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