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Raese wants 2nd look at WVU media deal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Morgantown businessman John Raese has asked West Virginia University President Jim Clements to reconsider plans to award a lucrative media rights contract to IMG College and West Virginia Media Holdings.

Raese, who has run unsuccessfully for West Virginia governor and the U.S. Senate, fired off a letter Friday afternoon to Clements and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who recently set up a public-corruption unit.

"It's a state contract, and there are questions about it," said Bob Wynne, a lawyer for Raese-owned Greer Industries. "We believe the attorney general for the state of West Virginia should be informed."

WVU Board of Governors Chairman Drew Payne, who has acknowledged speaking to Athletic Director Oliver Luck about the media rights deal, serves on West Virginia Media's board of directors and had a major stake in the media firm until last year. Payne, who stands to benefit financially from the contract, said he played no role in the media rights deal -- valued at more than $110 million over 12 years.

Clements, through a spokeswoman, would not comment on Raese's letter Friday, saying the Gazette-Mail's request for an interview was "premature." Clements suggested that the newspaper contact Luck, but only after the media rights contract has been finalized. Luck and five other members of a university panel that reviewed bids for the contract signed nondisclosure agreements to remain silent about the deal until WVU and IMG reach a formal agreement.

"[Clements'] office is in receipt of Mr. Raese's letter, and it will be reviewed and responded to appropriately," said WVU spokeswoman Becky Lofstead.

Morrisey's office would not to say if it plans to start an investigation.

"Since the only thing we have seen or heard about this so far is what is in the news, I can't comment as to whether it is something our office could investigate or not," said Richie Heath, an assistant attorney general and spokesman for Morrisey's office. "When we receive Mr. Raese's letter, we will review it thoroughly."

Raese owns West Virginia Radio Corp., which has broadcasted WVU football and men's basketball games for decades through a partnership with the WVU-owned Mountaineer Sports Network, which now holds the media rights.

Payne said Raese simply doesn't want to give up his lucrative partnership with WVU.

"It's all about money," Payne said. "They've had a sweetheart deal. They've been taking advantage of the university, and now they won't be able to do that anymore."

Payne said WVU stands to make $5 million a year more under the media rights contract with IMG and subcontractor West Virginia Media.

"John Raese wants to hold onto the status quo," Payne said. "He wants to keep all the money."

WVU has signed a "letter of intent" to award its third-tier media rights to IMG College. The media rights cover some nonconference football and basketball games, nonrevenue sports, radio broadcast rights, coaches' shows, signage, online content and seatback sales.

IMG is expected to partner with West Virginia Media on the deal. The Charleston-based firm already handles weekly shows for WVU head football coach Dana Holgorsen and men's head basketball coach Bob Huggins, who's also an investor in West Virginia Media, according to a company investor list obtained by the Gazette-Mail.

Other investors include WVU Board of Governors member Dave Alvarez, and WVU Foundation board members Marty Becker, Stuart Bloch, Bob McMillan and Tom Potter.

"There's still no agreement yet," said Payne, who has loaned West Virginia Media money in past years and now has a stake of "less than $500,000" in the media firm.

West Virginia Media President Bray Cary has declined to comment, but sources have said Cary attended IMG's presentation to the six-member panel that reviewed bids from nine companies that competed for the media rights package.

Raese's company was an unsuccessful bidder.

WVU expects to finalize its agreement with IMG and West Virginia Media in the coming weeks. The contract would start July 1.

According to Raese's letter to Clements, West Virginia Radio Corp. has been associated with WVU for 40 years. The company broadcasts WVU sports on 62 affiliate radio stations.

In the letter, Raese said his company remains in the "forefront of the ever-changing landscape of media rights in college athletics.

"Given our involvement in this sector, we are particularly concerned with the bid process and directions this process is taking WVU," Raese wrote to Clements.

"Our concern is further heightened by the fact that even though we have been an active business partner over many years . . . we have never been consulted on the direction which WVU is moving."

Raese questioned WVU's tentative decision to enter into a 12-year deal with IMG, considering that Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference schools are now reacquiring the same type of media rights that WVU plans to give away.

 Raese asked if WVU could afford to buy back its media rights, if the Big 12 Conference -- like the SEC and Pac-12 -- requires its members to do so.

"To sign those rights away for 12 years could cost somebody a lot of money," Raese's lawyer, Gwynne, said. "It's going to be very expensive to get those rights back."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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