By John Raby
West Virginia University said Monday it will rebid a contract for multimedia rights to certain athletic events following a review by the state attorney general’s office that found “significant errors and sloppiness” in how the deal was crafted.
The university announced the decision shortly after Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released his staff’s findings and recommended that the contract be rebid.
WVU Board of Governors Chairman Andrew Payne and board member David Alvarez should have recused themselves from participating in bid reviews for the contract, Morrisey said. But Morrisey, who has been investigating allegations of impropriety since last month, said at a news conference in Charleston that he found “no evidence of intentional wrongdoing.”
Athletic Director Oliver Luck, a member of WVU’s evaluation committee, provided confidential details of the proposed contract with IMG College to Payne before its public release, Morrisey said, and Payne’s subsequent statements to media outlets about the financial terms were inappropriate.
Among other findings, Morrisey said two of the six evaluation committee members didn’t vote on the proposal in early December and weren’t given enough time before a letter was sent to IMG the next day.
WVU signed a tentative licensing agreement in January with Winston-Salem, N.C.-based IMG College. The university later suspended talks after reports that Payne and Alvarez had ties to a company angling to subcontract with IMG.
The school had said that the board played no role in contract talks.
Morrisey said he briefed WVU President Jim Clements on his findings Sunday.
“It is clear from this report that mistakes were made in the procurement process,” Clements said in a statement, “and we will take proactive steps to fix them. Starting over is simply the right thing to do.”
All the key WVU players issued brief statements. Luck acknowledged his communication with Payne was “inappropriate” and should not have occurred, but said it didn’t affect the evaluation or selection process.
Payne said he also accepts Morrisey’s findings and is “committed to fine-tuning our board processes so we can do a better job of identifying possible conflicts or problems going forward.”
Morgantown businessman John Raese — whose company bid on the contract — had accused WVU of violating contracting rules and sought to have the agreement bid again.
The Big 12 Conference owns the media rights to WVU’s regionally and nationally broadcast basketball and football games.
WVU’s negotiations involved televising games that are not included with the conference and NCAA contracts. It also would have given IMG College the rights to manage and market publishing related to WVU sports, as well as radio game play-by-play and coaches’ shows.
WVU hadn’t released terms of its nonbinding agreement, although such deals are lucrative for universities.
WVU’s broadcast rights are currently handled by the university-operated Mountaineer Sports Network. The network works closely with the Raese-owned West Virginia Radio Corp.
An attorney who works for Raese didn’t immediately return a telephone message Monday.
Among numerous complaints, Raese accused 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.
Alvarez also owns stock in West Virginia Media, while W. Marston 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.
Alvarez issued a statement saying he now understands his obligations to recuse himself from board meetings or presentations where the current Mountaineer Sports Network contract or future outsourcing of the multimedia rights contract are discussed.
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.
WVU’s announcement and Morrisey’s news conference came the same day that the university released documents on the bidding process sought by The Associated Press and other media organizations through Freedom of Information Act requests.
WVU provided 64 pages of documents, but only one suggested Payne had been aware of Luck’s negotiations.
On June 20, 2012, Luck forwarded an email exchange between himself and purchasing official Tim Bostonia. The exchange itself is redacted, and the subject line says only “Athletic Media Rights - Strategy Meeting and Pre-Proposal Conference Call.”
“This bureaucracy is killing us,” Luck wrote to Payne.
In a cover letter for the documents, WVU attorney Gary Furbee said the redactions included material “containing attorney-client communication(s) and/or reflecting the institution’s internal deliberative process.”
— Associated Press writer Vicki Smith contributed from Morgantown.