50-70 Pilot Program for 2012. This will be the third year of the trial program, which offers certain age groups the option of playing baseball on transitional fields with 50 ft. mounds and 70 ft. base paths. This year Little League will allow participating leagues to choose the make-up of their own 50-70 division from within the 11- to 13-year-old age range.
Most significantly, Little League has announced the possibility of a permanent 50-70 division to be offered worldwide as early as 2013, including an international tournament and World Series. The organization will continue to collect feedback from leagues participating in the pilot program during its third year in order to help establish the parameters of the potential new division. By most accounts, the feedback on 50-70 has been positive after the first two years, so it is expected to be implemented for 2013.
But there are several questions yet to be answered: What will the age group ultimately be? Will the 46-60 Major League division continue to exist simultaneously? Will big-barrel bats be allowed in the 50-70 division?
My initial reaction to this inevitable change is positive. Little League is continuing a gradual change toward "real baseball" for its younger divisions. Just two weeks ago the organization announced that its Majors division will be playing "dropped third strike" rules beginning in 2012. With 50-70 baseball, baserunners will take leads and pitchers must hold them close.
More importantly, the safety impact of 50-70 should be immediate. A 46 ft. mound is too close for 11-12-year-old baseball these days. The kids are older and bigger than they used to be, and the bats are more powerful. Of course, the safety improvements would be negated if Little League decides to allow big barrels. Backing up the mound four feet does not warrant the use of bigger bats.
While many leagues, including our own, will experience a somewhat unwelcome reshuffling of age groups, the pros will likely outweigh the cons. Given the potential parameters, I am hopeful the new 50-70 division will be an 11-12-year-old league using 2 1/4" barrel youth bats. Keeping 13-year-olds in Junior League would reduce the need to back the fences up in the 50-70 division. This is an issue for many leagues around the world. I think 225 ft. is ideal, but 200 ft. is acceptable in the regular season. Maintaining the split between 12's and 13's would also avoid any increased conflicts with middle school baseball.
We'll have to wait and see what Little League decides after the coming season. Should be interesting.