WVU Will Rebid Tier 3 Media Rights

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia University on Monday said it will rebid its multimedia rights and sponsorship contract after state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced he had uncovered ”significant errors” in how the university handled its initial request for proposals.

Morrisey also noted in his 24-page report that his office had uncovered “no intentional wrongdoing” in the process. WVU said the request for proposals will be reissued in the near future.

“Let me be clear, this review found no proof of intentional wrongdoing and no intentional interference in the process in order to derive a predetermined outcome,” Morrisey said. “However, this report highlights areas where the university should take some specific steps in order to eliminate any appearance of improprieties.”

Morrisey said he briefed WVU President Jim Clements on the report’s findings on Sunday.

“I want to thank Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and his staff for a detailed review and a clear set of recommendations,” Clements said. “It is clear from this report that mistakes were made in the procurement process, and we will take proactive steps to fix them. Starting over is simply the right thing to do.”

WVU had been set earlier this year to enter into negotiations for its Tier Three multimedia rights and sponsorship contract with IMG College, a division of IMG Worldwide that already handles the Tier Three rights for universities such as Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Notre Dame and dozens of others. The university selected IMG’s proposal over eight others submitted during the process. The deal reportedly would have been worth millions to WVU.

Morgantown businessman John Raese and his company, West Virginia Radio Corp. – one of the companies that submitted a competing proposal – objected, alleging “impropriety in the process,” Morrisey’s report states. WVU stopped the negotiations with IMG after Raese alleged that university Board of Governors Chairman Andrew Payne and board member David Alvarez had financial and business ties with West Virginia Media Holdings, a statewide television company owned by Bray Cary that could be seeking work with IMG as part of the rights deal.

The Big 12 Conference owns the media rights to WVU’s regionally and nationally broadcast basketball and football games, which are known as Tier One and Tier Two rights. WVU’s Tier Three rights involve televising games that are not included with the conference and NCAA contracts. It also would have given IMG College the rights to manage and market publishing related to WVU sports, as well as radio game play-by-play and coaches’ shows. West Virginia Radio currently has the broadcast rights to WVU sports, a deal that has been in place for many years.

Following a five-week review of WVU’s process, Morrisey offered the following findings on Monday:

— Due to their potential conflicts, Payne and Alvarez should have recused themselves from participating in bid reviews for the contract;

— Athletics Director Oliver Luck provided confidential details of the proposed contract with IMG College to Payne prior to its public release, which led to Payne making statements to media outlets about the deal’s financial terms. An email from Luck to Payne dated May 3, 2012 and obtained by The Intelligencer through a Freedom of Information request included a draft of the RFP before its public release.

— Based upon the proposals, WVU was correct in its decision to invite IMG College to engage in negotiations. However, the evaluation of the proposals did not conform to the RFP criteria.

Luck on Monday acknowledged his communication with Payne was “inappropriate” and should not have occurred.

“I concur with the Attorney General’s findings that these communications were improper, but agree they did not impact the evaluation or selection process. The department looks forward to the re-bid,” he said.

Payne said he accepts Morrisey’s report and appreciates the thorough work the office had done. “I’m committed to fine-tuning our board processes so we can do a better job of identifying possible conflicts or problems going forward, and I also applaud the university for taking corrective steps in the procurement process.”

Alvarez also said he accepts the report and understands his obligations to recuse himself from board meetings or presentations where the current Mountaineer Sports Network contract or future outsourcing of the multimedia rights contract are being discussed.

Morrisey’s report highlights several steps WVU could take to improve the RFP process. Those include reviewing and clarifying the steps the university takes in its procurement process relating to the competitive bidding of revenue-generating contracts, and better educating board of governors members, officers and employees about recusal requirements. The report also encourages WVU to keep prior bids it received confidential.

“My office understands that West Virginia University’s decision to out-source sponsorship and multimedia rights has a significant impact on the university and its many fans, supporters, and alumni in the state. Every taxpayer, as well, has a vested interest in this issue,” Morrisey said. “Our goal from the beginning has been to assess how the university handled the multimedia rights bidding process, determine if there were improprieties and, if necessary, ensure that errors were addressed.

“Regardless of who is unhappy with this report, our office has done the right thing. We appreciate WVU’s cooperation in this matter and willingness to release this report,” Morrisey added.