"I concur with the attorney general's findings that these communications were improper, but agree they did not impact the evaluation or selection process," Luck said in a prepared statement.
Morrisey's report also found that Payne had a conflict of interest because of his stake in West Virginia Media Holdings, which owns four television stations and the State Journal newspaper. WVU board member David Alvarez also holds shares of West Virginia Media.
Morrisey concluded that Payne and Alvarez should have stepped aside from all discussions about the media rights contract while the committee evaluated bids.
"[Payne] improperly received information about the process and instead should have recused himself from any and all participation in this matter," Morrisey said.
The attorney general's report noted that Payne told Charleston and Morgantown newspapers that IMG's proposal "would net the university $5 million more" than WVU's current contract.
Payne told Morrisey that he wasn't given financial details about IMG's bid, and came up with the $5 million figure based on media rights contracts at other universities.
"While the implication of knowledge itself is problematic, our review found that Mr. Payne's comments were nothing more than hyperbole," Morrisey said. "The inference further fueled an appearance of impropriety or potential conflict between his role as chair of the Board of Governors and his financial interests in West Virginia Media."
In a statement Monday, Payne said he accepts Morrisey's findings.
"I'm committed to fine-tuning our board processes so we can do a better job of identifying possible conflicts or problems going forward," Payne said. "I also applaud the university for taking corrective steps in the procurement process."
Alvarez also said he would step aside from discussions about the media rights deal after it's rebid.
"I am fully aware of my responsibilities to recuse myself in the future," he said.
Morrisey's report also scolded WVU purchasing officials who failed to document conversations that Luck and other committee members had with companies that bid on the media rights contract.
Morrisey uncovered only one such document -- a June 2012 email from a WVU consultant who had spoken to WVU Media Holdings President Bray Cary about whether the company was qualified to bid on the contract. The consultant sent the email to Luck.
During the review, Morrisey's office investigated allegations that IMG President Ben Sutton told two WVU athletic department employees that his company -- called ISP Sports at the time -- had reached a deal with the university. The conversation allegedly took place during a 2007 WVU-University of South Florida football game in Tampa.
In an interview with the attorney general's office, Sutton said he "frequently expressed his desire to want to work with WVU." But he denied ever saying there was a pending contract, according to the report.
In the end, Morrisey said he believes "there is clear factual support" for WVU's decision to sign a tentative contract with IMG. The 2007 conversation didn't give IMG an edge, he said.
"Our review found that the record supported the decision to select IMG College's proposal as the most advantageous to the university based upon the substantive terms of its proposal," Morrisey said.
WVU's 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.
Morrisey started his review five weeks ago, after Morgantown businessman John Raese alleged WVU officials violated university and state purchasing rules when IMG was selected to handle WVU's media rights. IMG had planned to partner with Charleston-based West Virginia Media Holdings, but the two firms haven't signed a formal agreement, Luck has said.
On Monday, Raese's lawyers said Payne and Alvarez should resign from the Board of Governors. They said Morrisey's report makes clear that university officials tried to steer the media rights contract to IMG College.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.