Baseball Bat Monopoly Suit Didn't Leave a Dent
(CN) - A company whose aluminum baseball bats have failed certification testing for use in school games does not have an antitrust case, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Introduced in 2011 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations, the Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution Standard measures how fast a ball comes off the bat on contact.
"Hot" bats with BBCOR values exceeding 0.500 cannot be used in NCAA or NFHS-governed baseball games.
The NCAA claims the standard ensures that aluminum and composite bats perform like wood bats for player safety and to reduce technology-driven hits and home runs.
Marucci Sports claimed in a 2012 federal complaint, however, that the standard helps protect the NCAA's sponsorship money from larger bat manufacturers such as Rawlings, Easton, DeMarini and Louisville Slugger.
A federal judge in Baton Rouge, where Marucci is based, dismissed the Sherman Act action, and a three-judge panel with the 5th Circuit affirmed Tuesday.
Marucci's complaint failed to "allege any specific facts" demonstrating an intent to engage in a conspiracy, Judge Carl Stewart wrote for the court in New Orleans.
"Marucci's allegations do not make it plausible that the NCAA and NFHS adopted a conscious commitment to a common scheme designed to achieve an unlawful objective," the 14-page ruling states. "In other words, the second amended complaint does not set forth facts that demonstrate a 'meeting of the minds' between the NCAA, NFHS, and other alleged conspirators."
Stewart said the complaint makes "various conclusory allegations that support one of many inferential possibilities."
Marucci failed to demonstrate the standard hurts competition in the non-wood bat market, according to the ruling, which citesthe 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in NCAA v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma.
That case held such NCAA rules are permissible as "conditions of the contest," such as the size of the field or number of players on a team, Stewart wrote.
"The liveliness of a baseball bat falls squarely within the framework of the rules and conditions described in Board of Regents," the opinion states. "The [Supreme] Court noted that it agreed with the NCAA's argument that 'maintaining a competitive balance among amateur athletic teams is legitimate and important.' The court also explained that '[i]t is reasonable to assume that most of the regulatory controls of the NCAA are justifiable means of fostering competition among amateur athletic teams and therefore procompetitive because they enhance public interest in intercollegiate athletics.' We are inclined to apply the same presumption to the BBCOR standard."
Marucci should not get to amend its claims for the third time, the court added.
NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remyd applauded the ruling.
"As the court recognized, these NCAA standards are intended to enhance player safety and to protect the integrity of college baseball," Remyd said in an email. "This ruling will permit us to continue to pursue these important goals, without fear of misapplication of the antitrust laws."
Marucci did not respond to a request for comment.