(CN) - The 6th Circuit dismissed Warrior Sports' claim that the National Collegiate Athletic Assocation violated antitrust laws when it changed the rule governing the size of lacrosse stick heads.
The Cincinnati-based appeals court said the challenged rule "does not harm competition and, consequently, does not unreasonably restrain trade or commerce."
For about 30 years, the NCAA allowed only lacrosse stick heads that were at least 6.5 inches at the widest point and 10 inches from top to bottom.
"Traditional heads were triangular in shape, but because the rule did not specify a minimum width for the base of the head, manufacturers began producing heads with a more pinched shape," the ruling states.
This made it more difficult for a player to dislodge the ball from an opponent's stick, leading players to use more force trying to do so.
The NCAA tried to address the problem by suggesting a rule change in 2006 that would have set a minimum width requirement for the base.
Lacrosse stick maker Warrior Sports objected, claiming the rule would render 14 of its 15 stick designs illegal.
The NCAA agreed to reconsider and in 2007, at Warrior's suggestion, changed the rule to incorporate a flared head design for which Warrior held a patent, "though it failed to disclose that fact to the NCAA at the time," according to the ruling.
Before the 2006 or 2007 rule changes went into effect, the NCAA again changed the rule, broadening the range of permissible widths.
Warrior saw the latest change as having been adopted "for improper and anticompetitive reasons under the influence of one or more of [Warrior's] competitors."
It accused the association of violating antitrust law, but lost in the district court, which ruled that the 2008 rule actually increased competition compared to the rule changes proposed in 2006 and 2007.
Although the 6th Circuit agreed, it found the lower court's comparison "inapt," because the two previous rule changes never went into effect. "Rather ... only the 2008 rule change matters for purposes of the antitrust analysis," Judge Deborah Cook wrote for the three-judge panel.
"Warrior concedes that the 2008 rule change will increase competition, not reduce it," Cook added. "Because the new rule applies equally to all manufacturers, Warrior may compete in the market on the same footing as all other participants."
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