Morrisey says WVU athletic broadcast package should be re-bid - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

WVU to re-bid controversial athletic broadcast rights package

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West Virginia University will re-bid its contract for lower-tier athletic broadcasting rights and sponsorships following a review of its previous bid process by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

In a statement issued following Morrisey's release of his report, WVU said the request for proposals will be reissued in the near future.

"I want to thank Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and his staff for a detailed review and a clear set of recommendations," WVU President Jim Clements said in a prepared statement. "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."

Clements' statement did not say when the re-bidding process would begin or when a contract would be awarded. Morrisey said he understood from his discussions with WVU that the process to re-bid would move quickly.

At his news conference at which he released his report, Morrisey said WVU's process in bidding its athletic media rights package was sloppy, and he said the package should be re-bid.

"While our office found significant errors and sloppiness in the process warranting a rebid, we did not find any evidence of intentional wrongdoing or intentional interference that might be used to advance a pre-determined result," Morrisey said.

Morrisey said he did not want to add "color" to the situation but that his office's review found "significant errors and sloppiness" and he did not think there was any intent to "pre-cook the result."

Click here  to read the 24-page report.

When West Virginia University joined the Big 12 Conference at the beginning of the 2012-13, it assigned the rights for national and regional broadcasts of its football and basketball games to the conference. WVU retained what are called Tier Three rights.

Tier Three rights are all other audio and visual broadcasts, including all national and regional broadcasts of sports other than football and basketball in addition to local broadcasts of those two sports.

According to Morrisey's report, West Virginia Radio Corp. has been involved with the radio broadcast of WVU athletic events for decades. There is no evidence that the West Virginia Radio contract had ever been placed out for competitive bids. The contract expires May 15, and the WVU athletic department decided to solicit bids this time.

West Virginia Radio operates the MetroNews network of radio stations in the state. West Virginia Radio provides the satellite uplink for the broadcasts, which go out over the MetroNews system. West Virginia Radio also provides members of the broadcast crew and technical support. Radio stations do not have to be part of the MetroNews system to receive the game signal, according to Morrisey's report..

WVU receives revenue from a limited amount of advertising sold during the radio broadcasts. John Raese, a frequent Republican candidate for statewide office, heads West Virginia Radio. Although Morrisey's review of the bid process was prompted in part by Raese's complaints, he refused to cooperate with the inquiry.

Among other findings of a review Morrisey's office made into the bidding process at WVU's request:

The multimedia rights contract is revenue-generating and not required to be placed through a competitive RFP, or request for proposal, process under either the West Virginia State Code or the WVU procurement rules. According to the report, nothing in the West Virginia Code limits the Board of Governors to enter revenue-generating contracts without a competitive bid, and there is nothing in WVU's Procurement Rules that require the bidding of strictly revenue-producing contracts. But, according to the report, since WVU chose to use a competitive RFP process to bid the multimedia rights, the RFP must be handled in compliance with the university's procurement statutes and rules.

Based upon the proposals and identified criteria, the record supports the university's decision to invite IMG College to engage in negotiations for a contract. According to the report, there was no evidence that a 2007 conversation between current IMG College President Ben Sutton and WVU Athletic Department employees had any effect on the current RFP or the potential selection of IMG for the contract. "Rather, our review found that the record supported the decision to select the IMG College proposal as the most advantageous to the university based upon the substantive terms of its proposal," the report reads.

The procurement process utilized in the evaluation and selection of proposals was flawed, incomplete and/or not in accordance with the RFP or the university's procurement rules. The report states that the review focused on whether the bidding process was free of significant errors or breaches that materially affected the integrity of the process.

Not all evaluation committee members were afforded a timely opportunity to formally vote in favor of the winning proposal, resulting in two of the six members ultimately not voting. Two committee members, identified in the report as Mike Parsons and Mike Szul, did not respond to a Dec. 3 email seeking a formal vote in favor of IMG, and despite the absence of those two votes, Tim Bostonia, the procurement officer handling the process, called IMG College Dec. 3 to inform them of the decision, according to the report. The findings go on to state that Bostonia sent a letter to IMG College Dec. 4, asking them to engage in "substantive good faith negotiations."

The make-up of the evaluation committee was altered during the evaluation process. Coupled with the lack of affirmative votes from two members, that may have materially affected the outcome of the decision. The report says the review found no indication of discussion among the evaluation committee members about adding additional members to that committee, and the expansion came in the middle of the evaluation process. "On its face, the addition of the three members is not cause for any negative inference," the report reads. "By all accounts, the three members were active members in the evaluation process and contributed positively to the dialogue of the evaluation."

There was not strict adherence to the confidentiality/nondisclosure provisions for the RFP and the university rules. The report states that the review discovered "multiple communications between members of the university's evaluation committee and interested parties outside the committee."

In bold, underlined letters, the report states that the review did not uncover any communication that directly impacted the evaluation process or constituted a material breach in the selection process.

"Nonetheless, the communications should not have occurred and give rise to an appearance and/or inference of impropriety," the report reads.

The review found communications that included updates on the internal process as well as the status of the RFP prior to its public release as well as non-substantive status updates after the public release of the RFP.

Those communications that are identified in the report as breaches in policy include Dec. 10, 2011, email from evaluation committee member and WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck to his assistant, Cathy Martin, asking her to send the "WVU Master Model" to WVU Board of Governors Chairman Andrew Payne. According to the report, that email also asked Martin to send Payne additional information from Rockbridge Sports Group and financial information.

The report also states that Payne made public statements during the pending process that implied his knowledge of the financial terms of the proposals and/or the contract "although he lacked actual knowledge of the proposals," the report reads.

There was a failure of the procurement office and/or the consultant to properly document conversations with proposers or potential proposers during the process.

The report states that David Johnston, the consultant, confirmed having conversations with multiple proposers, including representatives of West Virginia Media and West Virginia Radio. West Virginia Media is the parent company of The State Journal, WOWK-TV in Charleston-Huntington, WBOY-TV in Clarksburg, WTRF-TV in Wheeling and WVNS-TV near Beckley.

The evaluation of the proposals did not conform to the RFP criteria, including specifically the RFP addendum requiring weighted scoring.

The report states that the review did not find any documentary evidence of formal scoring of the proposals during the proceeding. And while scoring is not mandated in the RFP or the WVU Procurement Manual, an affirmative statement in the RFP put a burden on the evaluation committee to comply with weighted scoring, and while it occurred in the early review of the proposals, it was abandoned.

There is no reason to conclude that the university's contracts with Rockbridge Sports Group violated procurement rules, according to the report.

The review found no impropriety with the work provided or the qualifications of Rockbridge, according to the report.

"In particular, none of the contracts were competitively bid, but were instead direct contracts between the Athletic Department and Rockbridge to provide a variety of services," the report reads.

The WVU Board of Governors chairman should have recused himself from any and all participation in this manner.

"Our review further found, however, that Payne has both a financial interest in WV Media Holdings, and serves on an advisory board to the company," the report reads. "WV Media Holdings has current contracts with the university, and was, at various times in this process, a potential proposer or interested party to the multimedia rights RFP."

The report states that even though there was no evidence of improper use or benefit of the information or of improper disclosure of information to the benefit of a proper or potential proposer, Payne should have disclosed his financial interest in WV Media and recused himself from voting, discussing and participating in the RFP process.

Board of Governors member David Alvarez should have recused himself from any and all participation in the matter.

The report states that Alvarez has a financial interest in West Virginia Media Holdings, and for the same reasons as Payne, Alvarez should have recused himself during executive session presentations and/or board action relating to current MSN contracts or future outsourcing of the multimedia rights.

The report highlights several steps the university could take in order to improve the multimedia rights bidding process in the future.

Those steps 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 and/or avoiding participation in matters in which they may have a potential financial interest. The report also encourages the university 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 in a news release.

"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."

The findings in the report indicate that the Attorney General's Office was not provided information from private individuals or entities outside WVU, and they don't anticipate any of that information creating a change to their findings.

Morrisey said a core group of about five people in his office worked "around the clock" on the report for about five weeks.

"We wanted to be very thorough," he said. "I may not be the most popular person after this, but the truth will always prevail."

Morrisey said he also will not speculate on how the public should react to his report, but WVU gave permission for all the information to be released to the public.