CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Though West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey said his office found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing, there were enough “significant errors and sloppiness” by WVU to force a rebidding of the school’s third-tier media rights.
Speaking Monday from his state capitol office, Morrisey cited flaws in the procurement process that led to IMG College being awarded the contract in January. The attorney general’s 24-page report was posted online, part of Morrisey’s intention to “give the public confidence that the review undertaken by our office is ethical and thorough.”
Morrisey’s reports specifically cited mistakes by West Virginia athletics director Oliver Luck and WVU Board of Governors chairman Drew Payne.
“It’s our recommendation that all current proposals be rejected and that the multimedia rights matter should be rebid,” Morrisey said. “Second, all proposers should be allowed to part in the rebid process.”
Morrisey said WVU has indicated to him the media rights will be rebid: “That announcement will be forthcoming soon. I can’t define what ‘soon’ means, although there’s no substantive reasons why the issues raised in this report can’t be remedied quickly.”
WVU president Jim Clements, in a statement issued after Morrisey’s news conference, claimed, “Starting over is simply the right thing to do.”
The university asked Morrisey to conduct the review after ethical questions were raised about the Request for Proposals (RFP) process conducted last year. IMG College won the bidding, reportedly with a 12-year deal worth up to $110 million. But finalization of that contract has been on hold while Morrisey reviews the years-old connection between IMG and Payne. Payne is also a stakeholder in West Virginia Media, which participated in IMG College’s presentation and stands to profit from the pending deal as a subcontractor.
Morrisey said Payne improperly received information from Luck and further violated confidentiality policies by commenting publicly on the terms of the IMG deal.
Luck acknowledged in a statement his “inappropriate” communication with Payne. “I concur with the Attorney General’s findings that these communications were improper, but agree they did not impact the evaluation or selection process,” Luck said. “The department looks forward to the re-bid.”
Payne said he’ll work at “fine-tuning our board processes so we can do a better job of identifying possible conflicts or problems going forward.”
The attorney general said BOG member David Alvarez also should have recused himself, given his financial ties to West Virginia Media.
During a five-week review, Morrisey said his team “found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing or intentional interference that might be used to advance a predetermined result.” However, the process was tainted by the appearance of possible impropriety, he said, including curious decisions involving the evaluation committee that selected the winning bid.
Two of the six members “were not afforded a timely opportunity to formally vote in favor of the winning proposal” and wound up not voting. Those nonvoters were Mike Parsons, deputy director of athletics, and Mike Szul, associate athletic director of business operations. The report also revealed that the makeup of the committee changed during the bid process and “may have materially affected the outcome of the decision.”
Third-tier rights typically involve one football game per season (one that isn’t desirable for the major networks), several nonconference basketball games, plus the broadcasts of non-revenue sports like baseball, soccer, tennis and gymnastics. These third-tier packages also encompass radio broadcasts, weekly coaches’ shows, stadium sponsorships and online content.