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Published: Saturday, 2/2/2008

Rodriguez targets WVU Foundation

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Rich Rodriguez says opening the books of West Virginia's private fund-raising arm is the only way to determine whether his abrupt resignation as football coach harmed the school financially.

That was a key demand in the formal response that Rodriguez filed yesterday to WVU's lawsuit over the $4 million buyout clause in his contract. He also said it was the administration's actions - not a better offer - that forced him to resign in December and take the coaching job at Michigan.

WVU attorney Jeff Wakefield said Rodriguez's response "contains nothing new or unexpected."

"It will have no effect on the merits of the university's claims," he said. "We believe there is no basis in fact or law for their claims and defenses. We look forward to presenting our case before the court as soon as possible."

Largely, Rodriguez's answer to the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg restated many of the arguments his camp has made since Dec. 18, when his resignation sparked a feud with the school. His lawyers have ratcheted up the stakes by drawing the WVU Foundation into the matter.

The foundation, which had been run in part by WVU president Mike Garrison's chief of staff, Craig Walker, is not legally obligated to open its books to public scrutiny under ordinary circumstances.

The foundation is a key part of keeping the WVU football program self-sufficient.

According to its annual report, the foundation ended fiscal 2007 with total assets of more than $1 billion and endowment investments of $474 million, a 24-percent increase over the previous year.

"The only way to tell whether or not West Virginia University has been damaged is to see if its donations to the foundation have decreased and/or if other expenses have increased," his lawyers said, noting WVU hired assistant coach Bill Stewart to replace Rodriguez at a significantly smaller salary.

Rodriguez asked the court to make the foundation a third party to the lawsuit, citing recent news releases that claimed gifts to the foundation "were at an all-time high."

He wants the right to examine its books to find out if donations have dropped off since his departure.

Rodriguez also aimed to disprove Garrison's alleged assertion that "certain large donors" demanded the coach's contract include the $4 million buyout clause.

Rodriguez repeatedly has claimed that WVU broke the contract by failing to honor a variety of verbal promises, including one to reduce or eliminate his buyout.

WVU, which sued Dec. 27, denies such a promise was made.

The counterclaim also argued that WVU lacked the authority to file the lawsuit, which it said should have first been approved by a formal meeting of the board of governors.

But chairman Steve Goodwin said the board, which is named as a plaintiff, "was intimately involved in the decision."

A meeting was not required because of long-standing practice established under former president David C. Hardesty Jr., he said.

The president is permitted to act on the board's behalf in initiating or defending lawsuits.

"An actual vote on this was not necessary," Goodwin said.

Rodriguez admitted he didn't spell out his reasons for leaving in a one-sentence resignation letter in December, but pointed out that he did so in a second letter on Jan. 10 that essentially formed the foundation of his legal defense.

Earlier this week, Rodriguez filed a $1.5 million letter of credit with the court, arguing that's the most he could potentially owe under the contract in effect when he quit.

His legal team called that filing a gesture of good faith, not an offer to settle.



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