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Mike Casazza: IMG fits just what WVU wants

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Whether you're a fan of NASCAR or not doesn't matter today. What matters is whether you're prepared to see West Virginia University's athletic department treated like one of those stock cars.

Stickers here. Logos there. Company names wherever they fit. Alterations and modifications to add and create space for more of the same.

It's coming. It may not be quite as obnoxious as your most pessimistic predictions suggest, but it's coming. WVU is once again outsourcing the management of its athletic department's sponsorship and multimedia rights. To monetize means to commercialize and that means you'd better open your mind to seemingly endless opportunities for what the university calls "sponsorship recognition."

That much is clear after WVU released a revised and bold Request For Proposals this week. WVU tried this 11 months ago and thought it had reached the end of the road in January, when it sent a letter to IMG College essentially congratulating the industry leader on winning the contract.

Then came the aggressive, egregious and eventually substantiated protest from West Virginia Radio Corp. that brought the whole thing off the rails. WVU then promised to rebid its multimedia rights.

At the very media friendly time of 4:37 p.m. Tuesday - and, yes, that'd be May 14, just a day before a clause in WVU's contract with West Virginia Radio Corp. allows for a mutual renewal of their partnership - WVU sent out an email announcing the revised RFP to start the rebid.

It doesn't merely provide pieces for the puzzle. It paints the picture. What WVU wants for and from radio, television, digital properties, signage and sponsorship is pretty clear. This is a significant undertaking toward a new image for the athletic department.

And now that we know all the details, we fixate upon the dates, just because the requests are so vast and, at the same time, so necessary. WVU wants bids by June 18, wants to witness presentations 10 days later, wants to pick a winner by Aug. 5 and wants to notify the winner by Aug. 23.

Mind you, the football season, unequivocally the most lucrative asset WVU is offering, starts Aug. 31 - eight days later.

Whoever wins the contract - and we're still safe to assume it's going to be IMG College, for reasons I'll explain in a moment - has to do an enormous amount of work in a short time. No tasks are more critical than signing up affiliates, advertisers and production crews and then, you know, implementing all the things WVU wants to have in place.

The timing matters and you just wonder if the quality of the product the first year, or at least the first part of the first year, will be compromised by time constraints.

This is not to say it's impossible. In truth, advertising probably isn't too tricky because there is a priceless loyalty to WVU among so many sponsors. The winning firm will also have plenty of contacts to welcome to the fold - that's what makes IMG College an industry leader.

True, we're nearing the end of a fiscal year when June turns into July and decisions have to be made about spending money now and where to spend money later. It's fair to say some can't wait around to buy something that does not yet exist, but money will always be set aside for WVU.

A roster of television stations is easier to piece together than people want to admit because, though it helps, one does not have to own stations. You just need to assemble a list of affiliates. Radio affiliates might be harder to find, but only if you ignore the answer under your nose - and WVU would be losing a vital asset if it lost West Virginia Radio Corp. Say what you want in light of some recent actions, but what that group does with game broadcasts can stand next to and above its peers in college sports.

What remains interesting and, I assure you, topical is what West Virginia Radio Corp. President John Raese may do next. Only he knows. Let's not pretend there aren't hurt feelings on both sides of the table, though, and that future business might be a delicate proposition.

Raese also knows what WVU's reported deal was with IMG College. He could very easily go to, say, Learfield Sports and tell IMG College's top peer, "I've got the radio stations and I can get the television stations easier than people think. You handle the rest and we can submit an offer that meets all the requirements."

Back to those requirements, though. You can't read the RFP or catch a summary of what WVU wants and ignore the detail. It certainly sounds like what you'd imagine the prior contract with IMG College would have looked like, and that should more or less make you believe their union remains likely.

What WVU looks to have done is carefully create a description that's tailored to the capabilities of a company it's come to know. Perhaps cleverly, that leaves WVU with no choice but the choice it wanted all along.


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