Inclement Weather or Unforeseen Circumstances

This is one of two articles on this Locker Room related to Inclement weather. See the companion article as well: CCSUA School Procedures for Inclement Weather. It is located by selecting the CCSUA button on the Dashboard page, then select Announcements

This article covers the procedures for longer suspensions of play. See the companion article Suspension of play – normal game situations for the typical situations during a game which result in a short stoppage of play or are required by rule.

At times the game must be suspended for more than a temporary pause, such as – conference, substitution, the break between innings, an injury. The most common examples of longer suspensions of play would be for inclement weather, lightning, or the game lights unexpectedly turn off.

The rule book gives some guidelines for umpires to prepare for an impending suspension of play. These include stopping the game at the end of the half inning whenever possible (for example, as darkness approaches if there are no game lights, as an impending storm approaches or as field conditions deteriorate).

Procedure for inclement weather

The first step in preparing for a situation which may involve a pause in the action because of inclement weather is to recognize that an upcoming game might be so affected. The crew chief should contact event management and crew members a few days before the assignment; make sure you include the cell phone numbers of each umpire, and what time each would be leaving from work or home.

Upon arrival at the site, check the field and, if necessary, consult with the coach and field crew. During the umpire pregame in locker room make this the first point of discussion – how to walk the field before the game, and what exactly will be the procedure for getting together as a crew during the game.

The rule book gives us some guidance on when a game should be stopped because of inclement weather – “…players’ footing or grip on the bat or ball is obviously compromised.” Did you know this is the exact wording in the rule book? Do you use this wording when you must explain to a disagreeing coach why you are stopping play?

Most conferences have a policy for handling inclement weather. Make sure you have reviewed the conference policies before your assignment for a conference game. Here is an example taken from a college softball Conference Manual: “Each institution is required to have an infield tarp. In the case of inclement weather, all home teams must have drying materials available (i.e., diamond dry or like materials) and staff present to attempt to get the field playable.”

The ball is getting wet during play
The conditions are not bad enough to stop the game, but the ball is being returned to the infield too wet to be kept in the game. What is the best way to handle this? The key to managing this situation is to be aware of this potential situation, be proactive, and let the coaches know what you are going to do. If the grass might be wet at the beginning of the game, mention during the umpire/coach pre-game the procedure which will be used if the ball comes back to the infield wet. In the more common situation where an early morning game or a late evening game is involved, at the first opportunity when the ball is obviously wet, explain to the coaches the procedure.

The procedure is this: to keep a good game flow and to prevent an errant throw hurting an unsuspecting fielder or runner caused by a wet ball, once the ball is returned to the infield and all the runners have completely stopped on their bases, “time” will be called to exchange balls. The point of this “quick switch” of the ball is to eliminate the time spent having the ball returned to the pitcher, then the pitcher throwing it to the catcher so the umpire can give them a replacement ball.

Explain to the coaches that time will not be called until those two situations are fulfilled – returned ball is in the infield and the runners have completely stopped. This will not disadvantage the offense as the runners have stopped their advance with no intent to advance further. Most coaches are well aware of what we have always done and do not question this procedure. The crew should not allow a coach to question this. Explain that we now have abnormal game conditions and the crew is using rules to protect participants , to ensure a good game flow, and to handle a situation not specifically covered by the rules.

CCSUA guidelines for inclement weather

If a game is delayed due to inclement weather, a facility problem, etc., a reasonable amount of time (not less than 30 minutes) must elapse before the game is called.

Whether or not the Halted Game rule is in effect, this procedure should be followed.
• All umpires should be alerted to the possibility that if the inclement weather continues or gets worse, the game may have to be suspended. The plate umpire should discuss this with the base umpire(s) between innings if possible.
• Plate umpire should focus on the field conditions in the circle and the pitcher’s reactions to the weather – constantly wiping the ball, seems to be struggling to control the release of the pitch, stride foot sliding when it contacts the ground.
• The base umpire(s) should focus on the field conditions around the bases and the wetness of the grass (foul ground and outfield), as well as the fielders’ ability to catch and throw the ball.
• If any umpire feels the point has been reached whereby the field conditions or players’ actions indicate that the game should be suspended, a crew meeting should be held.
• All discussions about possibly suspending the game must be held away from any team personnel; ask them politely to let you discuss this as a crew.
• If the game is to be suspended, the plate umpire should ask the home team’s head coach to alert the field crew to immediately put the tarp on the field
• The crew should call together both head coaches and explain the decision to temporarily halt the game (use the rule book verbiage, as mentioned above). Do not use such phrases which indicate it is an immediate Called Game – e.g. “that’s game”, “that’s the ball game”, “game”.
• Designate to the coaches an area where the crew can meet with them again in 30 minutes to re-appraise the situation
• The umpire crew should check with game management to see what the next few hours look like via weather satellite.
• The umpire crew should then discuss with the field crew the prognosis for the field (they know their field better than we do).
o How much more water can the field take before it is completely unplayable?
o Is there sufficient material for preparing the field to be continued if the rain stops?
o How long will it take them to get the field ready once they are asked to do so?
• If is preferable for the crew to go back to the locker room during the delay, while ensuring that game management has the plate umpire’s cell phone number.

The ultimate decision once the game has started is that of the umpire crew; and it must be an informed decision favoring the safety of all (players, coaches, umpires, fans and all staff). The challenge is to communicate the decision and the factors that are the basis, so the coaches feel that they or their staff are involved or had input in the decision-making process.

Other Unforeseen Situations

Most of the above holds true for other unforeseen events. See the appendices at the end of the Rule Book. There is one which references the NCAA Handbook to consult for the NCAA Lightning Policy – it has the detailed guidance. Another appendix lists the Concussions protocol. For games with no lights and impending darkness or an approaching storm, as mentioned earlier, try to suspend the game at the end of a half inning whenever possible. One key to watch – when security lights are turned on for buildings near the field, day light will end shortly.

For an unexpected stoppage due to game lights (yes it even happened at a NCAA WCWS in 2019!), all the crew can do is wait for game administration to handle the situation. There should be some discussion with game administration, the crew, and the head coaches as to how long each team will need for a proper warm-up period after the lights return and before the game resumes.

For all the situations mentioned in this article, it is better to be on the side of student safety then continue taking chances. Think like this – the players need to be “safe” on the day after the game and can continue their season without injury.

A longer suspension may result in a Halted Game. See the article Halted game rule posted on this Locker Room website for the procedures to follow if a halted game is resumed.