For more information on the rules governing conferences see the article Conferences in Rules Corner/The Game/Participants.
Conferences between team representatives and players are a common occurrence during a college softball game. We must allow an appropriate amount of time for the coaches to meet with their players and, now with the new rules in 2022, allow player-to-player conferences. We do not want conferences to interrupt the flow of the game. We can do this by being aware of potential conferences, both offense and defense, as we are walking back to the plate after playing action – the pitcher has been struggling, 3 or 4 hard hits in a row, long inning, runners on 1st and 3rd, etc.
A charged conference is a legitimate suspension of play and it must be managed professionally. Most of the time it is the normal – coach wants to talk to the players, but we must be aware when it is possibly a delaying action to break the opponent’s momentum or the defensive coach requests it after a few close pitches have been called balls. Use your preventive umpiring techniques as appropriate in these situations. All offensive, defensive, and player-to-player conferences must be recorded and the head coach notified.
Here is how you can manage this “visitation schedule” after you have acknowledged the coach and called time:
• Take time to record details of the conference on the lineup card – inning, number of batter, outs
• Have a timing mechanism to ensure equal time for each team:
o Do not rush recording the details
o Take a moment to sweep the plate
o Wait another few seconds, and maybe even longer if it is a big moment in the game.
Be consistent yet appropriate with the time allowed for a conferences. Game situations may also determine the amount of time allowed.
Breaking up the conference
We need to be pro-active in breaking up conferences if it is not ending after a reasonable amount of time.
The trip out to the circle or toward the offensive conference
• Walk briskly and with purpose; no need to run. Keep your head up.
• Approach the conference opposite the coach so you are facing the coach as you approach, but do not say anything yet.
• Let the coach finish his/her thought and then say, “are you about ready?”
• If he/she continues talking, interject politely and state: “coach, it is time to wrap it up; we need to play ball.”
• Avoid arguments. If the coach starts to discuss balls and strikes or other judgment calls, state firmly that you are not there to discuss anything else. If the coach continues, issue a warning.
Heading back home
• Do not leave the meeting area until all players have separated.
• Defense: do not leave without the catcher; jog back with her and beat her to the plate area.
• Offense: do not leave without the batter; walk briskly back with her and beat her to the plate area.
• As you slow down to a walk near the plate area, look toward the location of the head coach (even if he/she is in the dugout) and state: “coach, that is a defensive (or offensive) conference.
Play: The defense asks one of the base umpires for time to speak to one or more defensive players, which is granted. (This will now be a charged player-to-player conference, per the 2022-2023 rule book) The plate umpire is not dealing with any substitutions or anything else. Who should be the responsible umpire to break up the conference – the umpire that granted the time out or the plate umpire? We have had a difference of opinions on this when it happened in a game.
Official interpretation issued by Craig Hyde, NCAA Softball National Coordinator: If players are near the plate, dugouts or circle, plate can break the communication; if near the base umpires – the one in the vicinity can break up.