WVU Tier III Rights Bid Under Review

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Tuesday that his office will help West Virginia University review a process to sell multimedia rights to certain athletic events after contract talks were suspended last month over allegations of improprieties.

WVU signed a tentative licensing agreement with Winston-Salem, N.C.-based IMG College in January. The university suspended talks after reports that two members of WVU's governing board had ties to a company angling to subcontract with IMG. The school said the board played no role in contract talks.

Morgantown businessman John Raese — whose company bid on the contract — accused WVU of violating contracting rules and sought to have the agreement bid again.

WVU said Tuesday it asked Morrisey's office for outside legal assistance.

"Through our engagement, we will help ensure that all applicable laws and regulations are being followed," Morrisey said in a statement.

The Big 12 Conference owns the media rights to WVU's regionally and nationally broadcast basketball and football games.

WVU's negotiations involve televising games not included with the conference and NCAA contracts. It also would give IMG College the rights to manage and market publishing related to WVU sports, as well as radio game play-by-play and coaches' shows.

An IMG spokesman referred questions to WVU, which declined to further discuss the contract dispute. An attorney for Raese didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

IMG College is one of the country's largest sports, media and entertainment companies. WVU hasn't release terms of its nonbinding agreement, although such deals are lucrative for universities. For instance, in 2009, Ohio State signed a 10-year deal with IMG College and RadiOhio guaranteeing the school $110 million.

WVU's broadcast rights are currently handled by the university-operated Mountaineer Sports Network. MSN works closely with Raese-owned West Virginia Radio Corp., which also bid on the contract.

In mid-February, Raese wrote to WVU President Jim Clements and the attorney general's office, citing the "appearance of impropriety" in the bid process.

Among Raese's numerous complaints, he accused WVU Board of Governors Chairman Drew Payne of having a conflict of interest because Payne serves on the board of directors of Charleston-based West Virginia Media Holdings and had a major stake in the firm until last year.

WVU Board of Governors member Dave Alvarez also owns stock in West Virginia Media, while W. Marsten Becker, a member of the WVU Foundation's board of directors, is chairman of West Virginia Media.

West Virginia Media has produced football and men's basketball coaches' television shows and would benefit from a potential partnership with IMG. Several calls to West Virginia Media President and CEO Bray Cary rang busy Tuesday afternoon.

While Payne has said he had no role in the negotiations, he told some media outlets that WVU would make $5 million a year under the pending contract with IMG. An attorney for the university later said the board had been briefed about the general financial details of the deal after the letter of intent was signed.

"There is clearly an appearance of impropriety when an individual who is a member of the Board of Governors of WVU (its chairman) and who is also a member of the Board of Directors of WV Media has access to confidential information — access which is denied to the public," Raese wrote.

The Dominion Post, which also is owned by Raese, first reported the connections.

Payne, who didn't immediately return a phone message, has said he wasn't involved in the bid process and that Raese is trying to protect his own radio unit's stake with WVU.

Among those on a committee that evaluated nine bids and made the final selection were athletic director Oliver Luck and associate athletic director Mike Parsons.

While WVU's purchasing rules prohibit board members from having financial interest in a university contract, state ethics laws say it is permissible as long as the board members play no role in the contract selection process.

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