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.