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WVU suspends awarding of media rights contract

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia University has suspended plans to award a lucrative media rights contract to IMG College and West Virginia Media Holdings.

The university started a review of the pending contract last week after Morgantown businessman John Raese raised questions about the proposed deal -- valued at $110 million over 12 years.

"It appears clear to me that WVU, in their procurement process, didn't follow their own rules," said Bob Gwynne, a lawyer for Raese-owned Greer Industries.

WVU spokesman Becky Lofstead declined comment Wednesday, citing the ongoing contract review.

Last week, Raese sent an accusatory letter to WVU President James Clements about the proposed third-tier media rights contract. Raese alleged that top WVU officials created "an appearance of impropriety" and violated a written pact to keep confidential the pending contract.

Raese said athletic director Oliver Luck and Board of Governors Chairman Drew Payne disclosed details about the media rights deal.

Payne, who has acknowledged talking to Luck about the contract, serves on West Virginia Media Holdings' board of directors and had a major stake in the company until last year. Payne, who stands to benefit financially from the contract, has repeatedly said he played no role in the deal.

WVU board member Dave Alvarez also owns shares of West Virginia Media, according to a list of company shareholders.

WVU purchasing rules strictly prohibit Board of Governors members from having a financial interest in a university contract. However, there may be exceptions under the state Ethics Act, which outlines steps public officials can take to avoid conflicts, according to the university's purchasing regulations.

WVU officials would not say Wednesday whether Payne and Alvarez received formal advisory opinions -- or informal guidance -- from the state Ethics Commission about the media contract.

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 nonconference football and basketball games, nonrevenue 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, Payne has said.

Raese's company, West Virginia Radio, has handled WVU football and men's basketball games for decades through a partnership with WVU-owned Mountaineer Sports Network, which now holds the media rights.

West Virginia Radio was one of nine companies that bid on the latest media rights contract.

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


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