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Judge denies motions in WVU media rights lawsuit

By Vicki Smith

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A judge has denied a motion by West Virginia Radio Corp. to reset West Virginia University's bidding process over a media rights contract for sporting events.

Judge Thomas Evans in Morgantown on Monday declined West Virginia Radio's bid for a preliminary injunction, citing the likelihood of significant financial harm to the university.

Evans also cited the public interest because WVU's football team plays its first game on Saturday. The university had argued it would be nearly impossible and very expensive to get a new media rights partner in time.

West Virginia Radio wants to stop WVU from finalizing a 12-year contract with North Carolina-based IMG College.

Earlier Monday, Evans rejected a request by the WVU board of governors, the WVU Foundation and other parties to dismiss the lawsuit.

Among other things, the motions were based on arguments that West Virginia Radio had failed to make a case for fraud and a violation of public procurement laws. Evans ruled these are important public policy matters and need to be heard. Evans did not rule on the merits of the case.

The network wants Evans to stop WVU from finalizing a 12-year contract with North Carolina-based IMG College that guarantees the university at least $86.5 million in revenue.

West Virginia Radio also wants Evans to block the deal and to order the WVU contract be rebid a third time, with IMG and West Virginia Media Holdings disbarred from the process. West Virginia Media Holdings, run by Bray Cary, is an IMG subcontractor and a competing network of news organizations.

West Virginia Radio attorney Frank Simmerman complained about his ability to wage an effective case because WVU refused from February until last Thursday to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests for procurement and purchasing documents. When it did, the university turned over dozens of redacted pages without explanation.

Among other things, Simmerman wants Evans to order those documents released so he can investigate WVU's relationship with IMG.

"We didn't get a whole loaf of bread," Simmerman said. "We got pieces."

Although it didn't indicate such in court filings, West Virginia Radio is now arguing its first bid was superior to IMG's monetarily.

Frederick Parsons, general manager of the West Virginia Radio-owned MetroNews radio network, testified the revenue-sharing agreement proposed by West Virginia Radio could have yielded $71 million to $81 million. Those numbers were never put in a response to a request for proposals, he said.

WVU board of governors attorney Jeff Wakefield noted a key advantage to the IMG deal lets WVU retain advertising rights and revenues from big-ticket clients including Coca Cola, United Bank, Nike and WVU Health Systems.

Wakefield also pressed the point that while Morgantown businessman John Raese, whose company bid on the contract, demanded that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey investigate the first attempt to award a deal in February, he refused to cooperate or provide Morrisey's office with any West Virginia Radio documents that might have helped.

West Virginia Radio attorney Bob Gwynne openly disparaged that investigation in court, saying, "That was a lawyer reviewing his client's activities."

Gwynne also testified that while the radio network had broadcast football and basketball games for 72 years under contracts, there was never a competitive bidding process until last year.

A review by Morrisey's office found "significant errors and sloppiness" in how the original deal was crafted, and WVU said afterward it would hold a second round of bidding that IMG eventually won. The initial review found two WVU board of governors members shouldn't have participated in reviewing the bids, but Morrisey said he found "no evidence of intentional wrongdoing."

IMG has argued it would be hurt by any attempt to stop the contract because it's invested more than $1 million to be ready for the upcoming football season. Since entering into the contract with WVU, IMG senior vice president Joe Potter has said it has signed 70 new sponsorship and advertising agreements totaling $2.5 million for the coming season.

Potter said those agreements would be invalidated by an injunction. The Mountaineers open at home Saturday against William & Mary.

 


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