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Raese demands answers about WVU media rights deal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Morgantown businessman John Raese alleged Thursday that top West Virginia University officials created an "appearance of impropriety" and violated a pact to keep confidential a lucrative media rights contract that's expected to be awarded to IMG College and West Virginia Media Holdings.

Raese also raised questions about WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins' new contract, the football stadium scoreboard and the university's decision to use West Virginia Media to broadcast the Mountaineers' spring football game, according to a letter Raese sent to WVU President Jim Clements.  

Raese alleged athletic director Oliver Luck and Board of Governors Chairman Drew Payne disclosed details about the media rights contract last week.

Payne, who has acknowledged speaking to Luck about the media rights deal, serves on West Virginia Media's board of directors and had a major stake in the Charleston firm until last year. Payne, who stands to benefit financially from the contract, has said he played no role in the deal - valued at $110 million over 12 years.

"There is clearly an appearance of impropriety when an individual who is a member of the Board of Governors of WVU -- its chairman -- and who also serves on the board of directors of West Virginia Media has access to confidential information, access which is denied to the public," Raese wrote to Clements.

Raese, who has run unsuccessfully for West Virginia governor and the U.S. Senate, sent a copy of the letter to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who recently established a public corruption unit. Morrisey would not comment Thursday.

Raese's company, West Virginia Radio, also bid on the WVU media rights contract.

"They need to tell the public what has happened regarding this transaction," said Bob Gwynne, a lawyer for Raese-owned Greer Industries. "It's a question of public trust."

In his letter, Raese asked Clements to investigate men's basketball coach Bob Huggins' new contract. Huggins is a West Virginia Media investor.

Raese said Huggins' contract includes a $25,000 bonus each time WVU defeats the University of Kansas. Raese called the bonus "a questionable incentive."

He said Payne apparently has oversight over Huggins contract. Payne and Huggins are close friends, according to Payne.

"I would like to ask you who initiated this raise and incentive for Coach Huggins?" Raese asked Clements in his letter. "Was Drew Payne involved in the process?"

West Virginia Media also televises Huggins' weekly coach's show.

"As a shareholder in West Virginia Media, Coach Huggins got a double bang for his buck when Mr. Luck awarded the contract for his show to West Virginia Media," Raese said in the letter. "Speaking of raises, I note that Oliver Luck also received a substantial increase in pay. Was Mr. Payne involved in any way with Mr. Luck's raise?"

Raese criticized WVU's decision to contract with West Virginia Media for the Gold-Blue football game last April.

"It is my understanding that ESPN wanted to broadcast this past year's spring football game," Raese wrote. "If my understanding is correct, the WVU football program would have received more national attention through such a broadcast."

Raese asked Clements to release documents about how WVU acquired the football stadium scoreboard in 2008.

"We question whether persons or their relatives having an association with [West Virginia] Media may have been involved in this process," Raese wrote.

West Virginia Media President Bray Cary and Luck did not respond to emails requesting comment Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Clements' office declined comment, saying only that the university had received Raese's letter. Payne could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Raese's letter criticizes Payne for telling newspaper reporters that WVU would receive $5 million a year under the proposed contract with IMG College and possible subcontractor West Virginia Media.

WVU has signed a "letter of intent" to award its third-tier media rights to Winston Salem, N.C.-based IMG College. The media rights cover some non-conference football and basketball games, non-revenue sports, radio broadcast rights, coaches' shows, signage, online content and seatback sales.

IMG is expected to partner with West Virginia Media on the deal, but the two companies have yet to sign a formal agreement.

Luck disclosed the possible partnership in an interview with The Dominion Post newspaper in Morgantown.

Raese said his lawyers recently contacted WVU purchasing director Tim Bostonia, wanting to confirm Payne's and Luck's statements about the pending media rights deal.

"Mr. Bostonia told us that all aspects of IMG's bid were confidential and subject to a non-disclosure agreement, and therefore no part of their bid could be disclosed," Raese wrote.

Raese said his lawyers asked Bostonia how Payne knew details about the tentative media rights contract.

"After a short pause, Mr. Bostonia said that he would have someone call us with an explanation," Raese told Clements. "We presently are still awaiting that call."

The Gazette also requested IMG's bid under the state Freedom of Information Act.

WVU lawyers rejected the request, citing an exemption to state FOIA law that allows state government to withhold documents that contain information about "commercial competition." However, the university's lawyers suggested the Gazette request IMG's bid package at a later date.

Raese's company, West Virginia Radio Corp., 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 has said Raese doesn't want to give up his lucrative partnership with WVU.

Raese sent a separate letter to Clements last week, asking WVU's president to reconsider awarding the media rights contract.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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