I can honestly say that before I became a sports journalist, I did not watch softball. I did not know much about the sport other than the ball was bigger and the pitchers had an odd-looking windup and delivered the ball underhand.
I have watched baseball my whole life but after covering Arizona softball this past postseason, I can say that I am now a huge fan of the game.
Whether it was shortstop Jessie Harper hammering another record-setting home run or pitcher Hanah Bowen inducing many swings and misses with her rising fastball, there was never a dull moment. It is an amazing sport, and the sport deserves to have all the tools to make it as successful as possible.
That is why it is stunning that in 2021, college softball still does not use replay. Just about every professional sport and many college sports use replay, and it has had a very positive effect.
In 2014, when the replay was introduced into the MLB, 49.47% of reviews have been overturned. In the NFL, 41% of reviewed plays are overturned. Officials are not perfect and will make mistakes from time to time.
That is why replay is in place, because some calls are so big that if it is wrong it could change the game and perhaps the entire course of the season for both teams in the game.
It is no secret that the frustrations of not having replay in college softball have boiled over. Many coaches have voiced their opposition to not having it, as it has cost teams many games in the College World Series. Here is a brief timeline of games where not having replay affected the outcome of games at the College World Series.
2017 College World Series
An article by Softball America discussed how many teams at the College World Series in 2017 were affected by plays that could not be reviewed. That list included LSU, UCLA, Texas A&M and Oregon. I would understand if it were one call in one game, but four teams across a postseason are unacceptable. Former Oregon head coach Mike White said he felt it was silly that more games were decided by bad calls than by the teams playing the game.
“I think this tournament has really illustrated it, is the need for the ability to make a challenge,” White said at the 2017 College World Series. “There have been so many games decided by some calls that could have gone — I think were incorrect calls to be quite frank, and that made a big difference. This game is played at a high speed. Umpires are human. You should have the ability to challenge a call.”
2021 College World Series: Oklahoma vs. James Madison University
While many of us were busy being sad about Arizona getting eliminated from the postseason, one team was struggling on a different level. The Oklahoma Sooners were the No. 1 seed in the tournament and opened their postseason play against unranked James Madison University. The controversy began in the top of the third inning when JMU catcher Lauren Bernett stepped up to the plate. Bernett hit a grounder to second baseman Tiare Jennings, who fielded the ball and threw Bernett out. The umpire called the runner safe, which sent head coach Patty Gasso on the field to discuss the call with the umpire crew.
Without replay, there was nothing that could be done about the call and the play stood. After that wild play, JMU went on to score three runs in the inning, which allowed them to eventually upset the top-seeded Sooners 4-3.
“I will not make a comment on the play at first,” Gasso said at the 2021 College World Series.
Oklahoma vs Florida State – Game 2 of championship series
Oklahoma was fortunate enough to advance to the College World Series championship game, but it happened there too. In their Wednesday, June 9, matchup against Florida State everything was on the line. Oklahoma was down 1-0 in the series, so one more loss would send them home.
The first questionable call came in the top of the first inning. Oklahoma right fielder Nicole Mendes sent a grounder to the second baseman Devyn Flaherty. Flaherty was late with her throw and Mendes clearly beat it, but she was called out anyways.
“We're baffled why we don't have instant replay,” Gasso said at the 2021 College World Series. “Baseball has it. Volleyball has it. Why doesn't softball have it, especially on the biggest stage? It's only fair — it's fair for both programs, for all teams in the World Series. Everyone in the postseason.”
Many critics of replay cite how much time it may take to review calls, slowing down the game. Gasso said she believes if the right call is made, time should not be a factor.
“If it takes a little extra time, our sport is that good that people aren't going to leave,” Gasso said at the 2021 College World Series. "If they leave, personally, I will say I would rather a fan leave viewership and us get the call right.”
If that was not bad enough, Oklahoma faced problems yet again in the bottom of the first inning. Third baseman Sydney Sherrill was running down the baseline and dodged the tag of first baseman Taylon Snow. Sherrill stepped outside of the baseline during the tag attempt, but the umpire called her safe. The next batter hit a home run and just like that Oklahoma was down 2-0 in an elimination game because of a bad call.
“We have over 40 cameras here … we're on the biggest stage there is,” Gasso said at the 2021 College World Series. “I just feel like there's been so much of coaches coming out of their dugouts to question calls. And probably a lot of them are right. I am not saying that they are wrong. But it is certainly for peace of mind and for the good of the game, we want things to be right. Umpires want things to be right.”
Gasso said she wants fairness for her team and every other team, so this does not keep happening at the biggest of moments.
“It's what the game deserves. It's what our players deserve,” Gasso said at the 2021 College World Series. "Let us do this right. We deserve that.”
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