Raese alleges WVU 'tailored' media rights bid for competitor
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In their latest salvo on West Virginia University's handling of a media rights deal, lawyers for Morgantown businessman John Raese alleged Wednesday that WVU officials "tailored" a recent bid request so that Winston Salem, N.C.-based IMG College and subcontractor West Virginia Media Holdings would win the lucrative contract.
In a formal protest, Raese's attorneys said WVU must disqualify IMG and West Virginia Media from bidding on the contract a second time because of "the appearance of impropriety."
In January, IMG signed a tentative third-tier media rights deal with WVU. But the university announced it would re-bid the multimillion-dollar contract after West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a report concluding that WVU officials -- including athletic director Oliver Luck and Board of Governor's Chairman Drew Payne -- violated purchasing and ethics rules while creating the deal with IMG.
In the protest letter Wednesday, Raese's lawyers said allowing IMG and West Virginia to bid again on the media rights contract "turns a blind eye to confirmed breaches of public trust and confidence."
"Stated succinctly, the public deserves better, and common sense and law mandate exclusion of IMG and West Virginia Media from the new bid process," wrote Frank Simmerman, a lawyer for Raese-owned West Virginia Radio Corp., which unsuccessfully bid on the media rights contract last year.
WVU plans to open the latest media rights bids on Tuesday. University officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
In Wednesday's letter to WVU, Raese's lawyers requested a protest hearing during which his lawyers plan to question Luck, Payne, Morrisey and Tim Bostonia, who works in WVU's purchasing office.
Raese's lawyers also called on WVU to release documents that disclose bids submitted by IMG College and other companies last year.
In addition, Raese's lawyers said that WVU purchasing director Brenda Mowen should recuse herself and not preside over West Virginia Radio's protest hearing. The lawyers alleged that Mowen mishandled Raese's protest of the first round of bids for the media rights contract. Mowen rejected West Virginia Radio's first protest.
In April, Morrisey's report found "significant errors and sloppiness" by WVU officials when they reviewed bids and initially selected IMG College to handle the university's media rights. However, Morrisey didn't find any criminal wrongdoing, saying the mistakes appeared "unintentional."
Third-tier media rights cover televised coverage of some non-conference football and basketball games, radio broadcast rights, non-revenue sports coverage, coaches' shows, signage, online content and seatback sales.
The contract has been valued at $110 million over 12 years.
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 holds the media rights.
Raese's critics have said he doesn't want to give up his company's "sweetheart deal."
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.