MORAGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University’s 16-month entanglement with West Virginia Radio Corporation could come to an end this week.
And then the problems would really begin.
Following oral arguments May 23 in which WVRC sought a summary judgment, judge Robert Evans set a significant deadline for Friday. Evans gave both sides two weeks to organize arguments to prove to Evans why he should or shouldn’t void WVU’s athletic department multimedia rights contract with IMG College.
Those rights include radio broadcast rights, television rights for select football and basketball games and all other small sports, plus control over a range of other properties that includes coaches’ shows, schedules, publications, digital platforms and event venue signage and advertising.
WVU issued a Request for Proposals in June 2012 to manage those Tier 3 rights. In January 2013, WVU, one of the last remaining schools to independently manage the properties, agreed to a deal with industry leader IMG College. A letter was sent to IMG College stating WVU’s intent to award the company the contract. In February, the process was paused before it could be finalized when businessman John Raese, who owns WVRC, protested the deal.
That dispute led to a review of the process and of the improprieties and favoritism alleged by Raese. It grew to involve state attorney general Patrick Morrisey. In April, his office’s review deemed WVU to be guilty of “significant errors and sloppiness,” and encouraged WVU to re-bid the contract.
WVU complied and again picked IMG College last July for at least $86 million over 12 years, the first of which is almost complete. Before that, though, WVRC sued WVU’s Board of Governors, West Virginia Media Holdings and IMG College for allegedly rigging the process. That struggle continues, up to and including this week.
If WVRC can compel Evans to rule in its favor, WVU will be made to search for a Tier 3 partner for a third time. Preseason practice begins in eight weeks and the first game of the season is Aug. 30 in Atlanta against Alabama. WVU took seven months to choose IMG College the first time and two months the second time. If WVU needed two months for a third search, it would take the school and the eventual partner right up to the start of preseason practice.
If Evans sides with WVU and doesn’t see a need to void the contract with IMG College, it’s still not the end. The lawsuit with WVRC would continue.
In August, Evans denied a motion to dismiss WVRC’s lawsuit, but also denied WVRC’s request for a temporary injunction to cancel the IMG College contract and also prevent the company from participating in subsequent bidding.
Each side has had ups and downs since then, and in the May 23 appointment WVRC used email to prove the initial bidding process, which WVRC was a part of, was biased. WVRC presented correspondence it said showed West Virginia Media Holdings promised to influence WVU in favor of IMG College.
An IMG College attorney countered the claim not by denying it, but by saying the company was doing what was within reason in the pursuit of new business.
WVRC’s lawsuit could still result in the court declaring “any contract entered into by West Virginia University with IMG College regarding the Third-Tier Media Rights” to be void because of the way WVU violated procurement rules.
In addition to money for damages and attorney fees, WVRC seeks injunctions that would keep WVU and IMG College from doing any Tier 3 contracts with any entity associated with West Virginia Media Holdings. WVRC also wants to “debar” IMG College from the Tier 3 process because of “improper acts,” and to make WVU “complete the original Media Rights Request For Proposals process” and award the contract to the “best remaining bidder.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.