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Morrisey to join WVU media rights review

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has joined a review of West Virginia University's plans to award a lucrative media rights contract.

"This office will assist WVU in the ongoing internal review of this issue," Morrisey said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "Through our engagement, we will help ensure that all applicable laws and regulations are being followed."

WVU has signed a tentative agreement with IMG College, a North Carolina firm that's expected to partner on the third-tier media rights deal with West Virginia Media Holdings of Charleston.

Morgantown businessman John Raese has asked WVU to scrap the deal and re-bid the contract. Raese asked Morrisey to investigate the proposed deal and other WVU contracts. Morrisey recently set up a public integrity unit designed to crack down on corruption in West Virginia.

In a release, Morrisey said WVU requested that his office provide "legal advice and assistance" during an ongoing examination of how IMG College secured the tentative media rights deal - valued at $110 million over 12 years.

"To facilitate this review, WVU has offered to provide the attorney general's office with all necessary information, access and resources," Morrisey said.

Bob Gwynne, a lawyer for Raese-owned Greer industries, questioned Morrisey's ability to investigate the media rights deal and other WVU contracts while the attorney general represents the university. Gwynne said Raese also wanted Morrisey to investigate potential violations of West Virginia's "Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act" involving the WVU Foundation, which donated money to pay for scoreboards at Mountaineer Field and the Coliseum.

"At this point, we would recommend an independent, third-party investigator," Gwynne said.

IMG College President Ben Sutton Jr. and West Virginia Media Holdings President Bray Cary are longtime acquaintances.

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.

The third-tier media rights cover some non-conference football and basketball games, non-revenue sports, radio broadcast rights, coaches' shows, signage, online content and seatback sales.

Last month, WVU started a review of how IMG was selected. The university has suspended the bid process amid the inquiry.

Raese alleges WVU officials violated university and state purchasing rules when IMG was tentatively selected to handle the university's third-tier media rights.

WVU administrators have declined to comment on the allegations. Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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