CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Morgantown businessman John Raese called on West Virginia University President James Clements Thursday to scrap a tentative media rights deal with IMG College and West Virginia Media Holdings. In a letter to Clements, Raese said WVU should rebid the contract, alleging that top WVU officials violated university and state purchasing rules when IMG was selected to handle the university's lucrative third-tier media rights. Raese described the bid process as "defective.""There are obvious questions about conflicts of interest, and the fact that WVU failed to follow its own [rules] and state purchasing regulations," said Bob Gwynne, lawyer for Raese-owned Greer Industries. "We have numerous concerns." A WVU spokesman said the university hadn't yet received Raese's letter -- his third letter to Clements about the media rights deal in two weeks. University officials have previously declined comment, citing an ongoing review of how IMG was selected. WVU has suspended the bid process amid the inquiry.
Earlier this month, WVU signed a letter of intent to award its media rights to Winston Salem, N.C.-based IMG College, which is expected to partner with West Virginia Media Holdings. The deal could be worth as much as $110 million over 12 years. IMG College President Ben Sutton Jr. and West Virginia Media Holdings President Bray Cary are longtime acquaintances. They both started in the sports media business in North Carolina. WVU Board of Governors Chairman Drew Payne serves on West Virginia Media's board of directors and held a major stake in the media firm until last year. Payne, who stands to benefit financially from the media rights deal, has said he played no role in selecting IMG or West Virginia Media, which haven't reached a formal agreement on the partnership. In his letter, Raese wanted to know whether Clements has asked Payne to resign. Raese alleges that Payne has a conflict of interest and violated a pact to keep details about the media rights deal confidential. "Such conduct, actions and statements are unacceptable for a person holding the lofty position of chairman of the board of governors of West Virginia University," Raese wrote to Clements. Payne declined to comment on Raese's allegations Thursday. "He's entitled to his opinion, just like everyone else," Payne said. "This is between John Raese and the university. I'm not going to comment on his accusations." The third-tier media rights cover some nonconference football and basketball games, nonrevenue sports, radio broadcast rights, coaches' shows, signage, online content and seatback sales.Also Thursday, Raese renewed his push to have West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey investigate the media rights deal, saying it "raises serious public integrity concerns." "My recollection is he ran on a public integrity platform this fall and has initiated a public corruption unit," Raese said in his letter to Clements. "This needs to be looked into by the attorney general." Morrisey has declined to say whether he plans to investigate.
Morrisey's office said Thursday it would be premature to comment on Raese's allegations before WVU completes its review."The university has indicated that it is following the procedures it has in place to investigate and address concerns, complaints and protests," said Beth Ryan, a spokeswoman for the attorney general. "We will continue to monitor issues as they arise and are sensitive to our duty to represent state entities on matters of law." In his letter, Raese also told Clements that his company, West Virginia Radio, would not submit another bid for the media rights contract, if WVU scraps its tentative agreement with IMG College and rebids the deal. However, Raese said he would reserve his right to protest the contract, if WVU finalizes a deal with IMG. "I want to make sure that nobody is mistaken with regard to our motives in this matter or that we suffer a bad case of 'sour grapes,'" Raese said in his letter.Raese criticized WVU General Counsel William Hutchens for allegedly misinterpreting a Feb. 13 letter Raese sent to Clements. Hutchens concluded that Raese's Feb. 13 letter was a formal bid protest. In his letter Thursday, Raese said Hutchens should file his own protest "due to the fact the whole process was defective."
Raese said he doesn't plan to protest the bid now because WVU officials notified him the university wouldn't disclose any details about the media rights deal until WVU reaches a formal agreement with IMG. "Based on this alone, it would seem fruitless at this time to file such a protest," Raese told Clements. "I would like to ask you why is Mr. Hutchens not ordering a cancellation and rebid of this process?" In the letter, Raese also questioned why WVU athletic director Oliver Luck awarded a contract to West Virginia Media to produce a weekly television show for men's basketball Coach Bob Huggins. Huggins is a West Virginia Media investor, according to a list of company shareholders. "It is my understanding that WVU received substantially less money than it had previously received for the show," Raese said. "... Why would WVU agree to be paid less than it had previously been paid?" Raese also wants Clements to investigate a $2.2 million loan from the WVU Foundation to the WVU athletic department. The money was used for scoreboards at Mountaineer Field and the Coliseum. "Were the individuals involved in these transactions, either individually or on behalf of some entity, either investors in West Virginia Media or relatives of investors in West Virginia Media?" Raese asked in his letter. Raese's company, West Virginia Radio, has handled WVU football and men's basketball games for decades through a partnership with the WVU-owned Mountaineer Sports Network, which now hold the media rights. Payne, WVU's board chairman, has alleged that Raese doesn't want to give up his "sweetheart deal." Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.