CHICAGO (CN) – An Illinois youth hockey club claims in a federal lawsuit that a state affiliate of USA Hockey is intentionally limiting the number of clubs allowed to join its ranks in an attempt to maintain control of the top-tier amateur hockey market.
Reapers Hockey Association, one of the largest youth hockey clubs in Illinois, filed a lawsuit Thursday in Chicago federal court alleging USA Hockey affiliate Amateur Hockey Association Illinois, or AHAI, has violated antitrust laws and is controlling the amateur hockey market through its “corrupted” and “boy’s club” leadership.
According to the 43-page complaint, AHAI and its board of directors are only serving the interests of the four hockey clubs currently chartered by the organization. Those four clubs – Team Illinois Hockey Club, Chicago Mission AAA Hockey Club, Chicago Fury and Chicago Young Americans – are also defendants in the suit.
Reapers, represented by Ronald Betman with Ulmer & Berne in Chicago, says AHAI has protected them from competing with other hockey clubs, forcing players and families to pay artificially inflated prices to join one of the four clubs competing at the “Tier I” level.
The four amateur clubs are the only ones in Illinois that can compete at the Tier I level – the highest skill level for players aged 9 through 18. Tier 1 clubs can only account for a maximum of 15 percent of amateur hockey players in each state, per USA Hockey guidelines.
In addition to violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, Reapers says the AHAI and its four clubs are depriving qualified players of the opportunity to compete at their appropriate level, which could hurt their chances of being scouted for college or professional teams.
“AHAI’s insular ‘boy’s club’ culture has fostered the organization’s lackadaisical decision-making and arbitrary enforcement of its bylaws, rules, and procedures,” the complaint states.
According to the lawsuit, AHAI’s board is made up of 15 people, most of whom have been on the board for over 20 years.
The complaint also alleges that several directors on the board have conflicts of interests that are impacting the Tier 1 clubs. One member, Gino Cavallini, is a director and officer of the Chicago Mission AAA hockey club and also an AHAI board member.
Reapers claims Cavallini earned more than $130,000 in 2016 as Chicago Mission AAA’s director and officer, which only counts his board responsibilities and doesn’t include additional money he made for coaching and other duties.
Reapers submitted an application last July to be a new Tier I club, according to the complaint, but AHAI’s board rejected the bid last month and gave no written explanation of its decision or procedures for how to appeal.
Reapers’ attorney, Betman, said in a statement Friday that “AHAI’s recent refusal to consider my client’s application on its merit is alleged to be anti-competitive and we have asked the court to step in and remedy the situation.”
“Not only does this artificial restriction rob talented youth players of the opportunity to play the sport at its highest level, which includes critical skill development and recruiting exposure for both the junior and collegiate levels, but it also has resulted in artificially inflated prices charged to current families of Tier I club participants,” he said.
AHAI did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
Founded in 1975, AHAI is a sanctioned affiliate of USA Hockey, which was appointed by Congress to be the national governing body for amateur hockey pursuant to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.