The College Softball Playing Field

The college softball playing field is similar to the playing field for other softball organizations. The following is a summary of the requirements which may be different. See the rule book for the details.

Basic layout

The basic layout is the same with these exceptions:
• If artificial turf is used, the recommendation is that the outfield portion be green and, if there is an infield portion it be brown with shorter blades than the outfield.
• Backstop is required behind home plate and should be a minimum distance of 25 feet and a maximum distance of 30 feet from home plate
• Wood, concrete or brick backstops must be padded from dugout to dugout
• Bullpens – separate bullpens are recommended; if only one is available, it should be big enough to accommodate two pitchers at the same time (one pitcher from each team).
• Some branding may be allowed on the middle third of the rise of the base.
• Dugouts (bench area) should be enclosed at each end and the rear; the field side must be protected by netting or fencing not less than 6 feet from the floor, except for the designated entrances/exits to the field
• Fence distances have minimum and maximum requirements – see Rule Book
• Foul poles are required at a minimum of 10 feet; it is recommended that they be at least 20 feet high. They must be a single color, either white of fluorescent orange; attachments are prohibited on the foul side.
• A warning track is strongly recommended
• If a tarp is on the field it is considered in play unless a ball becomes lodged; a fielder may elevate on the tarp, however if either foot contacts the tarp the ball is dead immediately

Markings (lines)

There are some minor differences with the lines drawn on a college field (all are required):
• All lines must be 2 to 4 inches wide and drawn with either white chalk or paint
• Catcher’s box is seven feet in length
• Coaches’ boxes are marked by two lines only; the back line is not required, allowing the base coach to move as far away from the plate area as desired; however the coach must not get closer than 8 feet from the foul line
• Pitcher’s lane is required
• Runner’s lane – no line connecting the foul line with the Runner’s Lane line
• Lines may be redrawn at the discretion of the umpire
• There are penalties for team representatives intentionally removing or covering any lines of the field
The Rule Book has an Appendix which goes into the details of what is considered “within” the space and what is considered “on the line.”

Regulation field

Umpires have the responsibility to check the playing field before the game
• The fitness of the field is to be decided within one hour before game time by the coaches of both teams and/or the on-site administrator
• Once a game has started on a nonregulation field, the error shall be corrected immediately with no penalty
• A double first base is not allowed
• If a game must be played on a nonregulation field, specific requirements are listed in the rule book
• Video, audio, and matrix boards are allowed but must follow the guidelines in the rule book appendix

Playing field challenges

Here is more information about the playing field, taken from an article in Referee Magazine, April 2018
The rules provide the specifications for the playing field and the umpires are required to inspect the field before the game.  But nary a word is said about what is an acceptable field condition. It is obvious if the umpires determine the field is unsafe, the game cannot be played.  But lacking a safety hazard, it would be helpful to identify some guidelines and address what modifications the umpires can and cannot make if they find the field in less than pristine condition.
The best tool available for dealing with any unusual field conditions is the ground rules.  A ground rule cannot supersede the rulebook.  Additionally, ground rules should follow the principles of simplicity, safety and fairness.
Crooked or faded lines can be a problem.  The best way to deal with either is for the umpire to keep his distance and visualize a straight line to the foul pole of base.  It should be made clear before the game that fair or foul is determined by rule and not by how the chalk is laid out.
Loose or crooked bases can also be a problem.  The rule book address only loose bases.  If the impact of a runner causes a base to be dislodged, neither she nor the trailing runner in the same series of play is compelled to follow the base out of position.  Any following runner is considered to be touching or occupying the base if, in the umpire’s judgment, she is touching the point originally marked by the base.
Occasionally the ground crew will not continue the foul line through the warning track to the home-run fence.  This must be part of the crew’s checklist when inspecting the field before the game.  It is imperative to have this foul line drawn on the warning track for both the 1b and 3b foul lines.
Occasionally there are objects close to the home run fence which can present a problem.  Similar to the warning track foul lines, these objects are a considerable distance from the calling umpire, even if an umpire has chased on the hit.  Be very watchful for these objects, which can include small poles at the top of the home-run fence, video cameras and their stands/platforms, trees or bushes, and areas which allow the spectators to be near, or hang over, the fence.