We are reader supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Also, as an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
To baseball fans, there is nothing quite like the sound of the crack of the bat on a beautiful summer night.
Unless you are a college baseball fan, then the ping of the bat is like music to your ears.
Unlike professional baseball, College Baseball allows hitters to use metal bats. In 1974, the NCAA made the switch from wood bats to metal bats in hopes of saving money and seeing an increase in offensive production. The switch was successful in doing both.
Aside from not getting paid to play the game, this is the biggest difference between college and professional baseball and is often a big adjustment for hitters when making that transition to the next level.
Let’s dig into the history of bats in college baseball.
From Wood to Metal
Wood bats are classic, but they have one big flaw: they shatter easily. All it takes is one jam shot for the wood to split and put the bat out of commission. This became a problem for college teams in the early 70s requiring a large portion of their budget to be spent on new bats.
Wood bats also make the hitter’s life more difficult to connect with the barrel of the bat. This was an area of concern for the NCAA as batting averages were floating around the low .260s before the transition to metal bats in 1974.
In 1981 college baseball teams around the country combined for a .300 batting average, 34 points higher than the .266 average in 1973.
The transition from wood to metal wasn’t the last modification the NCAA made to its bat regulations. In 1998, the BESR standard for bats was implemented in order to tame the offensive explosion.
Once approved for the college game, bat companies learned how to produce bats with more and more pop each year leading to an era of college baseball that many refer to as “gorilla ball”.
1998 was the end of an era in which the last year saw teams average 7.12 runs per game. That year USC beat Arizona State 21-14 in the College World Series Final.
From BESR to BBCOR
The longer the BESR standard governed bat regulations in college baseball, the more pop the bats gained. Bat companies, like many American corporations, learned how to work within their restraints to innovate and develop better products.
The introduction of composite bats changed the offensive game yet again. Eventually, “gorilla ball” began to make a comeback about 10-12 years after BESR was introduced to the college game.
The average runs per game began creeping back up around 7, and the home run rate increased 41% in just two years from 2007 to 2009.
As concern for the integrity of the game and player safety grew, The NCAA implemented a new standard for bats in 2011: BBCOR.
The new regulations once again tamed the offensive game, but history tells us that the bat companies will likely find ways to increase the performance of their products within the BBCOR guidelines.
We have detailed some of the BBCOR regulations in our article BBCOR vs. USSSA: Here are the Differences.
Will yet another change in regulations be necessary for the near future? Only time will tell.
Transition from College to Pro Ball
The transition from college baseball to professional baseball is a big jump for many players who are fortunate enough to make it. The talent level and lifestyle are among the biggest hurdles that players face, and the switch from metal to wood bats only adds to them.
For hitters, going from using a bat that allows more room for mistakes to a wood bat that is not as forgiving can be a challenge. Also, the weight of the bat can sometimes be distributed differently on metal bats than on wood bats.
This is why collegiate summer leagues are so popular. In these leagues, players play a minor league-like schedule and use wood bats. This better prepares them for the professional game and also gives professional scouts a chance to see them swing a wood bat.
For more information about collegiate summer leagues, check out our article How Do You Get on a College Summer Team?
This is also a transition for pitchers as well, but it often starts out as a good one. Some of the weak contact hits that they used to give up in college turn into broken bats or outs at the professional level.
What are composite bats?
A composite bat is made of a carbon fiber that allows for better weight distribution and less bat vibration. This decreases the sting on balls that aren’t hit on the barrel and increases the performance of the bat. Composite bats became popular in the 2000s before BBCOR regulations banned them in the college game. The performance of these bats increased as they were used more.
What are the most popular bat companies in college baseball?
Louisville Slugger and Demarini were the most popular bats used in the 2021 College Baseball season. However, during the Super Regionals of the College World Series, Easton was the most popular bat company. Rawlings, Marucci, and Mizuno are other frequently used bats in the college game.
Will the NCAA ever go back to wood bats?
This is highly unlikely as there is a lot of money invested in the metal bat contracts with these schools. Also, college baseball is as popular as it has ever been, and the use of metal bats is one of the characteristics that distinguishes it from the professional game. Switching from metal bats back to wood would not be good for the game’s marketing.