Paddle and ball rule changes effective May 1, 2016

This Rules Update was submitted by Dennis Dacey, USAPA Rules Chair
Background.  Over the last few years, we have seen a proliferation in the introduction of new paddles and, more recently, balls. Some of these new paddles and balls have barely met or exceeded the applicable specifications set forth in the existing rules. Others, while technically compliant with the present rules, have designs or characteristics that reward players who want the sport to become faster and tilted more toward power and less toward finesse. The USAPA and IFP are committed to preserving pickleball in a manner that does not favor any one style of player. We adhere to the following maxim: In deciding any matter related to equipment, the IFP is required to interpret the rules in a manner that will preserve the traditional nature and character of the sport and preserve the skills traditionally required to play the sport. The existing rules have proven to be inadequate when evaluating new paddle and ball designs based on this guideline.

Need for rule changes explained. In order for the USAPA/IFP to maintain the traditional nature of the sport, it has modified the rules and specifications for paddles and balls over time. As an example, a paddle deflection test was developed a few years ago to help reduce ball speed from paddles that were being made in a manner to produce a trampoline effect. Also, ball specifications were developed to better control their characteristics for play based on what was available at the time. We now see a further need to amend the rules by adopting more exact specifications. Each of the new rules set forth below, except Rule 2.D.7, clarifies allowable limits or characteristics of paddles or balls.

Effective date.  Although the rules stated below are being amended and added as of November 1, 2015, they will not become effective for existing products until May 1, 2016. There will be a grace period until May 1, 2016 to allow manufacturers time to develop conforming products and to allow players to adapt to those conforming products. In the meantime, paddles and balls that meet current specifications may be used in sanctioned tournaments.

New amended rules. The wording of the new rules can be found in the italicized sections below. Explanations in standard type are found immediately above the paddle and ball rule changes.

1. Paddle rule change. Rule 2.E.2. is modified to specify test criteria for paddle roughness. This Rule change is:

2.E.2. Surface. The paddle hitting surface shall not contain holes, indentations, rough texturing, tape, or any objects or features that allow a player to impart additional spin on the ball. Paddle roughness is determined using a Starrett SR 100 Surface Roughness Tester. The allowable limits for roughness shall be no greater than 30 micrometers (µm) on the Rz reading (average maximum height, peak to valley), and no greater than 40 micrometers on the Rt reading (maximum height, peak to valley). All readings will be taken in 4 different directions. The paddle hitting surface shall not be adversely reflective, such that it has the potential to obscure the vision of opposing player(s).

2. Ball rule changes. The specifications are being tightened in a manner to better control and identify balls used for sanctioned tournament play. The new rules are:

2.D.1. Construction. The ball shall be made of durable material molded with a smooth surface and free of texturing. The ball can only be one single, uniform color, except for identification markings. The ball may have a slight ridge at the seam as long as it does not significantly affect straight flight characteristics.

2.D.2. Size. The ball shall be 2.874 inches (73mm) to 2.972 inches (75.5mm) in diameter. The maximum out-of-round diameter variance shall not be greater than +/-0.020 inch (0.50mm).

2.D.3. Weight. The ball shall weigh between 0.78 and 0.935 ounces (22 and 26.5 grams).

2.D.4. Bounce. The ball shall have a bounce of 30 to 34 inches (76.2 to 86.4 cm) when dropped from a height of 78 inches to the top of the ball onto a granite surface plate that is a minimum of 12” x 12” x 4”. The test is to be performed at an ambient temperature of 75 to 80 degrees F (24 to 27 degrees C).

2.D.5. Hardness. The ball shall have a hardness of 40 to 50 on a Durometer D scale at a temperature of 75 to 80 degrees F (24 to 27 degrees C).

2.D.6. Design. The ball shall have a minimum of 26 to a maximum of 40 circular holes, with spacing of holes and overall design of the ball conforming to straight flight characteristics. The ball must have a manufacturer’s or supplier’s name or logo printed or embossed on it.

2.D.7. Approval. The Tournament Director will choose the tournament ball. The ball(s) selected for play in any IFP member’s sanctioned tournament must be named on the official list of approved balls.

Conclusion. Over the next few months, paddles will be reviewed by the IFP/USAPA for roughness based on the new rules. We anticipate that very few currently listed paddles will not meet the new requirements. Also, all balls will be reviewed under the new ball rules. Some will need to be modified by the manufacturers to meet the new bounce, weight, and construction requirements. In addition, they will need to be marked by the manufacturers so that approved balls are easily identifiable for tournament play. The IFP/USAPA believes these new rule changes will help preserve the traditional nature and character of the sport.

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