Defensive Changes and Reporting Them

Thanks to Will Macedo, Oscar Segura and Martin Vandenburg for their assistance in writing this article.

All defensive changes must be reported in college.  But what is a defensive change as compared to a defensive shift?  This is an important distinction, as the NCAA rule book has specific requirements for listing the defensive positions on the lineup card and even more detailed rules covering substitution and inaccurate lineups.
We can look at both the rule book and Case Book to assist us in this determination.
  • Rule 5.7 discusses the lineup card and the requirement to list the defensive positions for each player in the lineup.
  • Rule 6.6.3 covers infielders and outfielders but puts no restrictions or definition for those terms.
  • Rule 6.6.4 differentiates between a player changing defensive positions and temporarily stationing herself to a different location on the field (a shift). It also parenthetically allows for other than the normal positioning of four infielders and three outfielders.
  • Rule 8.1.1 specifically designates 10 positions which must be included in the lineup – the well-recognized numbering practice of 1 for pitcher, 2 for catcher, etc., plus the DP.
  • Rule states a defensive player is entitled to change to a different defensive position at any time as long as the change is reported to the plate umpire.
Case Book
A.R. 8-3. The second baseman is located closer to first base than the first baseman who is playing in and away from the foul line for a slapper
RULING: They are not considered to have different defensive positions; however, if the catcher and first baseman exchange positions, they are considered to be unreported substitutes if the umpire is not notified (Rule 8.1.2).
A.R. 8-4. Has there been a defensive position change in any of these cases?
(1) The first baseman plays directly behind second base (up the middle) and the defense doesn’t position anybody in the first baseman’s traditional position.
(2) The same alignment as in the previous example, however, the person who was the third baseman is behind second (up the middle) and the person who was the first baseman is where the traditional third baseman is.
(3) The right fielder moves to shallow left field, the left fielder moves to deep left field and right field is left vacant
RULING: (1) There has been no change. By rule, the first baseman can be positioned anywhere in fair territory. This is a positioning issue rather than a reportable change.
(2) This is an example of a change that must be reported – the first and third baseman have switched positions. If not done, apply the effect for Rule
(3) This is a positioning issue similar to the first example rather than an exchange of positions.
Note: In the interest of accuracy and giving players credit for their play, it would be helpful if coaches always informed the umpire of positioning changes and defensive switches so there would never be a rule violation. However, by rule, coaches must only report the switching of defensive positions or substitutions that involve a player not currently in the lineup.
(Rule for all 3 situations
Assume the position number in the diagram is the player’s number and their original defensive position.  Use common sense and try to change as few defensive positions as possible.
Slap hitter.  Defense moves the left-fielder in to play 1st base. The original 1st baseman moves to a spot half way between 1st and 2nd base. The 2nd baseman moves to the 3rd base side of the 2nd base bag.  The shortstop moves half way between 2nd and 3rd base.  The 3rd baseman stays close to 3rd base.
If the coach does not tell the umpire exactly where each player will be playing with regard to the position numbers, the plate umpire should tell the coach. “I can take these defensive changes, but we must have positions numbers for each of your players. Do you want to decide this?  If not, I will designate #7 as position 3, # 3 as position 4, #4 as position 8, and #8 as position 7.
Game Management
It would be impossible to discuss every possible defensive alignment which college coaches may employ. Good lineup card management is part of good game management.  Using these examples as a guide, the plate umpire must use common sense and the intent of the rule to manage the differences between when:
  • The defensive players move to a slightly-different-from normal alignment as part of a shift
  • The defensive players move to different defensive positions.