Monday, May 16, 2011

The biggest winner, hands down: Ron Prince

Embarrassing scandals over at Kansas, Kansas St

By Doug Tucker, AP Sports Writer

May 13, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Within days of one another, two unrelated and very expensive scandals have finally wound down at Kansas State and Kansas.

The embarrassing episodes made headlines around the nation. They cost the state's two biggest universities hard-won prestige, some important friends and millions of dollars.

Officials at both schools say valuable lessons have not only been learned, but taken to heart.

Individually, the biggest losers are five former Kansas staff members who are headed for prison. But other victims include two highly accomplished executives who are settling into retirement with tarnished reputations.

The biggest winner, hands down, was Ron Prince.

Last week, Kansas State agreed to a settlement with its former head football coach, agreeing to pay him $1.65 million. It absolves Prince of any wrongdoing in a dispute over a memorandum of agreement that Kansas State had contended was signed without the knowledge of then-president Jon Wefald.

After Prince was fired at the end of the 2008 season, the school said it discovered the agreement signed by Prince and then-athletic director Robert Krause. Under that pact, Prince was supposedly owed $3.2 million by Kansas State and the Intercollegiate Athletic Council in addition to a severance payment of about $1.3 million.

Under terms of the original agreement, he was not to receive any portion of the money for almost five more years, and the full amount would not have been paid until the end of 2020.

The settlement left many unanswered questions, including why the Wildcats after two years suddenly dropped the fight.

"I don't want to get into any of those things," said athletic director John Currie.

The Prince matter was the icing on the cake of an embarrassing audit done by an outside firm in connection with Wefald's retirement after more than 20 years as Kansas State president. The audit called attention to many questionable accounting procedures and sent Wefald out the door under a cloud of controversy.

Many of Kansas State's biggest donors angrily said they would write no more checks.

Wefald's successor, Kirk Schulz, insisted on a policy of near-total transparency. When Currie was introduced at a news conference two years ago, copies of his contract lay on a table in the back of the room.

And it was this transparency, Currie said, that brought the people back.

"The first year of fundraising, we had a $5 million increase that first year in annual gifts," he said. "It was critical in our beginning to rebuild the trust in our fan base. If we're going to ask people to invest in our program, they need to know exactly where the dollars they invest will go."

In the meantime, five former Kansas athletic department officials are going to prison for their part in a ticket scalping scandal. Counting legal bills, the affair has cost the Jayhawks more than $2 million.

Ben Kirtland, the highest-ranking official snared in the affair, was sentenced on Thursday to almost five years in prison. He was the last to be sentenced in the case and U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom told The Associated Press it was time for Kansas "to move on."

The Jayhawks can't move on fast enough.

"Today marks the close of a painful chapter in the history of Kansas Athletics and the University of Kansas as the last of the conspirators in the recent ticket theft case was sentenced," Kansas president Bernadette Gray-Little and athletic director Sheahan Zenger told thousands of donors in an e-mail.

Just minutes after Kirtland was sentenced, Gray-Little and Zenger assured donors that steps had been taken to make sure nothing like this ever happens to Kansas again.

"We want to thank all of you who stood with the university during this difficult period, as well as those of you who made your concerns and disappointment known," they said.

As the scandal grew, athletic director Lew Perkins retired a year early. Like Wefald, his distinguished career was diminished in some eyes just as it was coming to an end. Investigators said he had no part in the scam. But critics will always say his failure of oversight let the school down.

Like Kansas State, Kansas has installed new policies and new procedures, all designed to make sure no such thing ever happens again.

The Jayhawks have also offered to advise other universities on what happened, and why. They are taking a proactive role in offering to share their experience, and the lessons they've learned, with other universities in hopes of preventing a similar theft.

"That's the silver lining you always look for," said associate athletic director Jim Marchiony.

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