MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A judge on Monday refused to dismiss West Virginia Radio Corp.'s lawsuit over how West Virginia University awarded a media rights contract for certain athletic events but allowed the school and its new partner to continue with their plan to cover the football season that starts Saturday.
Circuit Judge Thomas Evans said WVU and North Carolina-based IMG College would face significant financial harm if he awarded the preliminary injunction the radio network wanted. West Virginia Radio wanted to reset the clock, effectively maintaining the status quo from June, before IMG won the contract.
But WVU attorney Jeff Wakefield argued that would leave the university with no partner to broadcast the games and no time to find a new one.
IMG has lined up 42 radio stations to carry Mountaineer games, and Evans said all of those contracts would be jeopardized by invalidating WVU's 12-year deal. He also accepted WVU's argument that it would be nearly impossible and exceedingly expensive to try to find a new partner five days before the William & Mary game.
Evans also cited the public's interest in avoiding a major disruption.
For now, he said, that outweighs the competing interest that public agencies award contracts through processes that are legitimate, legal and fair. But Evans said several times during the daylong hearing in Monongalia County Circuit Court that there are compelling questions of public interest that deserve to be heard.
The radio network wanted Evans to stop WVU from finalizing the contract, which guarantees the university at least $86.5 million in revenue. The network also wanted Evans to order WVU to re-bid the contract a third time, disbarring both IMG and subcontractor West Virginia Media Holdings from the process.
WVU's broadcasts were handled for more than 70 years by university-operated Mountaineer Sports Network, which works closely with West Virginia Radio. The radio network's owner, John Raese, complained in February about WVU's first request for proposals and demanded that state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey investigate.
Raese later refused to cooperate with that investigation, citing WVU's refusal to turn over procurement documents. His attorney, Bob Gwynne, disparaged Morrisey's investigation in court, saying, "That was a lawyer reviewing his client's activities."
The investigation, however, was critical of WVU.
Morrisey's report cited "significant errors and sloppiness" in how the original deal was crafted. The attorney general also said he found "no evidence of intentional wrongdoing," based on the witnesses his team could interview and the documents they could review.
West Virginia Radio filed several objections with the procurement office over the first process and did not bid the second time around, arguing the proposal was so narrowly crafted that only IMG could satisfy it.
Evans said West Virginia Radio is alleging serious misconduct and corruption of what should be an above-reproach process, and he's satisfied it has suffered harm as a result. Some can be quantified for the calculation of possible damage awards, he said, but some cannot, such as "loss of business reputation in the community" where it's aired games for seven decades.