Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Aloha Sports suing NCAA

The owner of the Aloha
and Oahu bowls seeks
millions in antitrust suit

The owner of what used to be the Aloha and Oahu bowls seeks damages that could amount to millions of dollars in an antitrust suit against the NCAA.

Aloha Sports Inc. accuses the body that governs college sports of "producing anticompetitive effects" that led to the demise of the two postseason games that were played at Aloha Stadium until 2000 and later not re-certified by the NCAA (bowl games are re-certified annually).

The suit was filed in Honolulu federal court last week. An NCAA spokesman said yesterday the Indianapolis-based organization had not been served yet, and declined any comment until its legal department could review the suit.

The suit does not request an injunction to restore the games.

The main issue is the NCAA's former requirement that bowl game operators guarantee a minimum payout of $750,000 to each team in a postseason game. The suit contends the requirement prohibited Aloha Sports from negotiating payouts "based upon, among other things, quality, service and the geographic desirability of playing in Hawaii."

The minimum payout is not listed as a requirement in the NCAA's 2003-04 Postseason Football Handbook, a rulebook for bowl-game administration.

The deletion of the rule proves the suit's point, one of the attorneys representing Aloha Sports said.

"It's our contention that the minimum requirement is simply price fixing," David Kesselman of Los Angeles-based Blecher & Collins, P.C., said in a phone interview yesterday. "I'd go as far to say the NCAA recognized that by pulling it out. They eliminated the requirement."

The suit also contends that the NCAA's requirement that teams have winning records to play in bowl games was unfair to the Aloha Bowl because it kept the University of Hawaii out of the game, thus hurting attendance.

Blecher & Collins specializes in antitrust litigation, Kesselman said. The firm won the case that allowed the Oakland Raiders of the NFL to move to Los Angeles in 1982, he added.

Frederick "Fritz" Rohlfing, an owner of Aloha Sports, is listed among attorneys for the plaintiff. He referred questions to Kesselman.

Rohlfing was the attorney for the bowl games when they were owned by Lenny and Marcia Klompus. The couple sold the games to Rohlfing after the 1999 games, both played on Christmas Day.

In 2000, the Oahu Bowl was played on Christmas Eve and the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day. Faced with dwindling attendance, Aloha Sports looked for new homes for the games.

The Oahu Bowl became the Seattle Bowl and was played in 2001 and 2002, but did not receive NCAA certification last year. The Aloha Bowl was moved to San Francisco, but never received certification.

Aloha Sports tried to bring back one of its games to Hawaii in 2002, but the NCAA approved instead creation of the Hawaii Bowl, a game owned by ESPN Regional.

Aloha Sports had a deal in place to sell the Seattle Bowl for $1 million last year to Pro Sports, but that was nixed by the nonrenewal of certification, Kesselman said.

"The only hang-up was that the Seattle Bowl had to be certified by the NCAA and it didn't happen," Kesselman said.

Kesselman declined to say how much Aloha Sports seeks in damages, but he did say the loss of potential income from the proposed sale to Pro Sports is part of the suit.

The suit is for three times the damages for violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act and Hawaii Unfair Trade Practices Law, breach of contract and intentional interference with contract and/or prospective economic advantage.


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