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Attorney General to help WVU review media rights process

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia University officials have asked state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office to assist in reviewing the school athletic department's so-called Tier 3 media rights process.

The school has asked Morrisey's office to "provide outside legal advice and assistance" as the university continues its internal review of the process.

In January, multiple sources confirmed that WVU and media firm IMG College had agreed to a 12-year contract that could carry an overall value of $110 million for the firm to manage the school's Tier 3 multimedia rights, which include radio sports broadcasting and some televised football and basketball games.

WVU was one of a few schools that had continued to manage its Tier 3 broadcasting and marketing in-house, mainly through its Mountaineer Sports Network.

The new arrangement is designed to make WVU athletics more attractive to regional advertising. The university is expected to net an additional $5 million a year through the new contract.

But on Feb. 20, WVU paused the finalization of the agreement in response to complaints raised by Morgantown businessman John Raese.

Raese owns the West Virginia Radio Corp., which currently broadcasts WVU games and also bid on the Tier 3 rights.

Raese's complaints centered mainly on an apparent pending partnership between IMG College and Bray Cary's West Virginia Media Holdings, which produces basketball and football coach talk shows distributed across the company's network of statewide television affiliates.

Raese said there was an "appearance of impropriety" because Drew Payne, chairman of WVU's Board of Governors, previously held a major stake in West Virginia Media Holdings and sits on the company's board of directors while still in possession of a smaller share of the company.

In a Feb. 7 interview with the Daily Mail, Payne said he and the board have "stayed completely away" from the new sports rights contract, letting Athletic Director Oliver Luck take the lead role in the process.

Payne said Raese's complaints were driven by nothing more than self-interest.

"John Raese has had a very lucrative deal up there with West Virginia Radio and he is trying to protect it," Payne said.

Sources indicated the Feb. 20 pause was a standard and built-in response to a third party protesting the awarding of a contract at WVU.

Raese also sent letters asking the state attorney general to look into the deal.

On Tuesday the university issued a statement saying school officials also would like for Morrisey to do so. 

"West Virginia University has asked the Office of the West Virginia Attorney General to provide outside legal advice and assistance on its previously announced internal review of the Tier 3 media rights process," the statement said.

The statement reiterated that the school has suspended the Tier 3 bid process. It said school officials would have no further comment at this time.

Morrisey also issued a statement Tuesday morning detailing his involvement.

"Through our engagement, we will help ensure that all applicable laws and regulations are being followed," he said.

"To facilitate this review, WVU has offered to provide the Attorney General's Office with all necessary information, access and resources," he said.

Morrisey also said, "In light of our new engagement with West Virginia University, this office will not make any further statements at this time." Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.

 


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