Interference by Retired Runner, Offensive Team or Loose Offensive Equipment

If you do a search in the 2018-2019 NCAA Softball Rules book for “interference” you will get 115 results. The interference rule encompasses almost seven pages in rule 12.  The word can be found in nine of the fifteen rules in that book. This article will discuss three types of interference: by a retired runner, a member of the offensive team personnel, and loose offensive equipment.

Retired Runner Interference

Interference by a retired runner does not happen often but when it does the effect is serious – the runner closest to home is declared out. There are two ways a runner is considered “retired”
  • The runner has been declared out
  • The runner has scored.
This retired runner may not interfere with a defensive player making a play on an active runner.  The rule does not make a distinction between making a play versus making an out, or whether the runner might have been safe.  You must call an out on somebody when a retired runner interferes.
In an elimination game between Oklahoma and Arizona State during the 2018 WCWS, the runner starting at first base was thrown out at second base but after being declared out the runner kept running through the base without sliding.  The fielder threw the ball to first base but her throw hit the runner’s helmet.  You can find a video clip of this play in the Video section of this Locker Room.  Retired runner interference was not called on this play, but it should have been especially if the runner does not slide. There is no “must slide” rule in college softball, but a Case Book ruling states that a runner is reasonably expected to slide when she is near a base. On this play the runner is almost at the base and standing up.
Consider this – unlike in football and basketball where referees must determine the legality of athletes crashing into each other on almost every play, softball is a more tranquil sport. Except when it comes to the double play at second base.  The double play is surely the exception to the rule in softball and easily rates as its most common physical play on the diamond. Once a month, umpires might need to decipher a collision at home plate, but the double play can happen three to five times in a seven-inning game.
Softball umpires know the play all too well — the shortstop or second baseman receives the toss, touches second base and throws to first base as the runner from first base is sliding in to second base at high speed trying to break up the play.  The physical contact at second base can trigger a wide variety of issues. Fielders get angry when they get hit. Runners get overly aggressive with their legs and arms. Players are injured. Defensive teams, especially on the lower age levels, vigorously celebrate the “twin killing,” which can lead to unpleasant exchanges between teams.
To exacerbate the situation, this play can be a major blind spot for umpires working in a two-umpire crew. Once the fielder transfers the ball to throw it, the base umpire will turn his attention to first base. According to two-umpire mechanics, the home plate umpire positioned more than 100 feet away then assumes responsibility for the interference call — an imperfect situation. So, it is imperative for umpires to learn the interference rule on double plays, how to interpret it and how to call it on the field.
But, what if the runner at second base is safe and the fielder continues to make the play to get the batter-runner at 1b?  She is not a retired runner; she is considered an active runner and must abide by the rules. The collision rule and the rule for running the bases offer some more insight into this situation. A runner may slide into the base and make contact with the fielder as long as she is making a legitimate attempt to reach the base. A legitimate attempt is making contact with the ground before reaching the base or fielder. She may not slide out of the baseline nor outside her reach of the base to slide directly at the fielder.  There is a video on the Locker Room which shows this type of play.
These are other actions by the runner which should lead to an interference call if a play is being made. And they might also be reason for an ejection. The runner:
  • Uses a rolling, cross-body or pop-up slide into the fielder.
  • Raises her leg higher than the fielder’s knee when the fielder is in a standing position.
  • Goes beyond the base and then makes contact with or alters the play of the fielder.
  • Slashes or kicks the fielder with either leg.

 Offensive Team Personnel

Another type of uncommon interference is when an offensive team member interferes with the defensive team’s endeavors.  This team personnel includes all players who are not currently active runners (not including retired runners as this has already been covered), coaches, trainers, or anybody else associated with the team.
Interference during live ball
Once again, the rule itself is clear – while the ball is live:
  • Team personnel may not interfere with a fielder who has a reasonable chance to make a play on a thrown or pitched ball within the field of play. The ball is immediately dead, and the runner closest to home plate at the time of the interference shall be declared out. Each base runner must return to the last base legally touched at the time of the interference, unless forced to advance.
  • Team members may not stand or collect around a base to which a runner is advancing. The ball is dead, and the runner being played on is out. Each other runner must return to the last base legally touched at the time of the interference.
  • When a fair batted ball or live thrown ball contacts a member of the offensive team/game personnel in unauthorized areas (for example, outside the dugout but in the field of play).
Interference during dead ball
There are separate rules in the college rule book pertaining to offensive team interference during a dead ball award. Sometimes these rules are referred to as the home-run celebration rules. Offensive team personnel shall not interfere with a runner(s) who is legally running the bases on a dead-ball award until the runner(s) contacts home plate nor with the umpire’s ability to see that all bases are properly touched.
  • Offensive team personnel, other than base coaches and base runner(s), shall not touch a runner(s) until the runner(s) contacts home plate.
  • Offensive team personnel shall congregate only in foul territory around home plate to congratulate the runner(s).
The effect for these two violations is a warning for the first instance, and then penalties for subsequent violations.
  • For the first bullet above, the player touched is immediately declared out and credited with the last base legally touched at the time of the interference.
  • For the second bullet above, the batter-runner is declared out and credited with the last base legally touched at the time team personnel entered fair territory.
  • In all cases, each other base runner must return to the last base legally touched at the time of the violation.

Loose Offensive Equipment

Loose offensive equipment – what is it?  It would be easier to explain what is not considered loose offensive equipment.  The only items of offensive equipment which may be on the field are: bat dropped after the batter hits the ball, helmet which unintentionally falls off a runner’s head
Any other items belonging to the offensive team which end up on the field preventsd the defense from making a play,
When a fair batted ball or live thrown ball contacts loose offensive equipment not involved in the game, but on the playing field, the ball is ruled blocked and dead. If no apparent play is obvious, no one is called out. Each runner must return to the last base legally touched at the time the ball became blocked, unless forced to advance
If the blocked ball interference is ruled. The runner closest to home plate at the time of the blocked ball shall be declared out, and each other runner must return to the last base legally touched before the ball became blocked, unless forced