Private School Sues to Get in the League

     LYNCHBURG, Va. (CN) - The Virginia High School League schemed to keep private schools out of Virginia high school football and basketball games, a lucrative commodity generating millions of dollars a year, a private Christian school claims in Federal Court.
     Liberty Christian Academy sued the Virginia High School League (VHSL), in a federal antitrust complaint.
     "The defendant in this action, Virginia High School League, Inc. ... through its Virginia public high school members, has entered into agreements that restrain competition in the markets for the commercial exhibition of Virginia high school football and basketball contests to exclude competition from non-public high schools such as plaintiff Liberty Christian Academy (LCA)," the complaint states. "Those restrictions are a blatant violation of the antitrust laws, have no legitimate pro-competitive justification, and should be struck down and enjoined.
     "The defendant's rules expressly ban non-public school membership in the VHSL, the premiere statewide high school athletic league, and thus, with limited exceptions, ban LCA and other non-public schools from participating in commercial athletic contests with VHSL members, including in the football and basketball markets described in more detail below."
     According to the 29page lawsuit, the Virginia High School League operates high school football and basketball games, controlling travel, communications, moving equipment, game telecasts, advertisements, promotions and ticket sales. The league also sells merchandise and apparel and employs coaches, referees and administrative personnel.
     "On information and belief, the aforesaid interstate transactions of defendant and its members involve at least tens of millions of dollars in collective annual expenditures and receipts," the complaint states.
     The league's anticompetitive nature is laid out in its handbook, the private school claims.
     "The rules at issue in this Handbook constitute horizontal agreements among commercial competitors in that they are proposed, drafted, and agreed upon by VHSL members that compete with each other off-the-field for ticket, sponsorship, and other revenue," the complaint states. "The VHSL anticompetitive rules are strictly enforced, so that member institutions have no choice but to comply with them or face penalties, including monetary fines and zero points toward their qualifications for the VHSL playoffs."
     The handbook states that only Virginia public schools can belong to the league, which has denied Liberty Christian Academy entry to the league twice.
     "As a result of VHSL's concerted refusal to deal with LCA and other non-public Virginia high schools, output of games and quality of competition is reduced in each of the two relevant markets, causing significant anticompetitive effects and consumer injury," Liberty says.
     The league generated $8.5 million in revenue in 2011, according to the complaint. Many of its games are televised, including its state championship, which has been broadcast on WatchESPN.
     Liberty claims its exclusion from the league costs it revenue dollars and forces the school to travel long distances - in some cases nearly eight hours - to play away games.
     It seeks a court declaration that the league's rules violate antitrust laws, and damages to be determined at trial.
     Liberty Christian Academy is represented by Mathew Staver.