By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It has not been a good week for West Virginia University’s ambitious plans for reshaping its athletic department.
First, over the weekend, the West Virginia Senate failed to act on proposed Senate Bill 125, which created TIF financing for a project in Monongalia County that would have provided a new baseball stadium for WVU that it would share with a New York-Penn League franchise, a new interchange on Interstate 79 and shops and restaurants.
Then on Monday, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey released a report that said the school’s effort to collect bids for its multimedia rights to certain athletic events was conducted with “significant errors and sloppiness” and that it should be rebid.
While saying the attorney general’s investigation found no “intent of intentional wrongdoing,” it did point fingers at WVU Board of Governors Chairman Andrew Payne and board member David Alvarez, along with athletic director Oliver Luck, for their actions.
Morrisey indicated that Payne and Alvarez should have recused themselves from participating in bid reviews for the contract and said Luck provided confidential details of the proposed contract with IMG College, which had tentatively been in line to win the contract at an estimated $110 million for 12 years, before the deal was released publicly.
Both Payne and Alvarez had ties to West Virginia Media, a company involved in trying to work out a subcontract with IMG to handle broadcasts of WVU football and basketball games along with coaches’ shows.
Before going public with the results of his report, Morrisey passed them along to WVU President Jim Clements, who immediately announced in a press release that the contract would be rebid.
“It is clear from this report that mistakes were made in the procurement process,” he said, “and we will take proactive steps to fix them. Starting over is simply the right thing to do.”
The school asked the attorney general to conduct a review of the process after John Raese, owner of West Virginia Radio, the group that had broadcast WVU sporting events over a long period of time, complained about the sanctity and honesty of the process.
Luck issued a brief statement in which he acknowledged that his communication with Payne was “inappropriate” and should not have occurred, but said it did not affect the evaluation or the selection process.
Payne and Alvarez also issued brief statements.
Another major problem pointed out by the attorney general was that two members of the committee put together to pick the company that would be awarded the contract did not vote.
Not voting were associate athletic director Mike Parsons and athletic business director David Szul. While the attorney general felt that the four people who did vote — Luck, Robert Griffith, Graham Peace and Steve Kite — gave the process validity, he thought it best that it be set aside.
Originally the committee consisted of just three members — Luck, Szul and Parsons — but it was expanded to include the other three.
“There was nothing wrong with expanding the committee, but when Parsons and Szul didn’t vote it is unclear if the three-person original committee would have given the proposal to IMG,” Morrisey wrote. “While there is no evidence of improper motives or release of information that unduly prejudiced the process, the communications themselves were improper as they could suggest an improper motive or intent.
“To be clear, our review uncovered no 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 the appearance and/or inference of impropriety.”
Szul indicated his preference for IMG but was concerned about reaching true comparative financial figures between the respective proposals and WVU’s Mountaineer Sports Network, while Parsons indicated he was not in favor of outsourcing the multimedia rights.
As for the TIF, that remains in limbo and could be brought back up this weekend by the Senate.
There were those in favor of the TIF who were deeply disturbed by the outcome.
“A big game of chicken was played and the residents of West Virginia lost. Plain and simple. North Central West Virginia lost out on 2,000 jobs in the infrastructure development, and it’s a shame,” said Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.