GRAND RAPIDS — In the 20 years Mike Schanhals has been playing, coaching and officiating lacrosse, the Hope College club coach has witnessed the gear evolve far beyond the wooden stick and webbed head he started with in high school.
Now, the crosse shaft is lightweight titanium. The helmets are aerodynamic and shoulder pads breathe. And, if the NCAA has its way, the head of the stick — the netted part used to catch, carry and throw the ball — will shrink a half inch in the middle and grow a quarter inch on the ends. It is a tiny change with multimillion-dollar implications for players of the increasingly popular sport.
And it is a change not sitting well with the owner of a Plainfield Township athletic store and a top Michigan-based equipment manufacturer.
In a federal court lawsuit filed this week, Athlete’s Connection, at 5361 Plainfield Ave. NE, and Warrior Sports Inc., part of the New Balance chain, allege the change will cost players at least $58 million to replace outdated equipment.
Sticks can cost $100 or more, and most players have at least two.
Warrior Sports and the store, which also has a location in Lansing, request damages of at least $30 million, claiming they will suffer an irreversible loss from decades of investment in design.
“Rather than provide guidelines and parameters within which manufacturers may compete on lacrosse head designs, the new version of the rule sets arbitrary, illogical, unreasonable and overly restrictive design specifications that significantly inhibit competition and innovation,” the suit claims.
All manufacturers will have to scrap their inventory, accept returns of unsold goods and overhaul their designs and production equipment.
“Moreover, the new rules will stifle future innovation … and, consequently, will severely limit the choices available to consumers.”
The NCAA disputes the allegations and expects to prevail, a spokeswoman said
“The NCAA believes this lawsuit is without merit, and we look forward to its dismissal by the court,” said Stacy Osburn, associate director for public and media relations.
Schanhals believes the changes, which require head dimensions a quarter-inch wider near the shaft and up to a half-inch narrower at two locations at the end, will make the game more difficult.
“In a way, it’s a positive change,” said Schanhals, who played at East Grand Rapids High School and also at Hope. “They’re trying to make the game faster and encourage more passing. You’re going to see a separation between the elite player and the average player.
“The downside is the player is going to have to buy it, and that’s not cheap.”
No local college competes at the varsity level. Calvin College and Grand Valley State and Ferris State universities offer club teams.
The largest impact, according to the lawsuit, hits high schools, where the sport is booming and estimates show 200,000 players were involved at some level last year.
Neither Warrior Sports nor the owner of Athlete’s Connection returned calls for comment on the lawsuit.
The gear maker and store have asked U.S. District Judge Janet Neff to suspend the rule from taking effect until the litigation is resolved.
It has requested a hearing be held before Sept. 19 because Warrior says it takes as many as 13 months to design, test and make a new head. The court has yet to set a date to hear preliminary arguments.
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