MANHATTAN — Kansas State has reached a settlement in its lawsuit against Ron Prince that will pay the former football coach $1.65 million, a lump sum Prince’s lawyers and agent say is better than what he was previously owed.
The settlement ends a two-year process in which K-State attempted to bar Prince from receiving deferred payments of $3.2 million from a “secret agreement” between Prince and former athletic director Bob Krause in 2008, months before Prince was fired.
Prince also received $1.2 million in buyout money from his regular contract.
“We are happy that the university has recognized its commitment,” said James Neale, a Virginia-based lawyer representing Prince. “We’re pleased with the deal financially, but we’re even more pleased with the fact that Ron Prince has been vindicated.”
Neil Cornrich, Prince’s agent, said in a statement that Prince was “appreciative of KSU’s willingness to structure the settlement in such a favorable manner.” Cornrich contends the settlement is a “significant financial advantage” for Prince compared to the $3.2 million buyout. Those payments were not scheduled to start for almost five years and would not be fully paid until Dec. 31, 2020.
“Discounted to present value, the $1.65 million settlement figure essentially represents an agreement to pay Coach Prince almost the entire $3.2 million termination payment,” Cornrich said. “Coach Prince will receive these funds upfront and almost nine years earlier than they were originally due.”
The $1.65 million must be paid by May 25.
K-State’s athletic department incurred a total of $395,000 in outside legal fees during this process. In a university release, athletics director John Currie said the settlement amount will be paid from conference and NCAA revenue and that no individual donations or ticket revenue will be used.
The department will earmark K-State’s share of the withdrawal fees to be paid by Nebraska and Colorado to the Big 12 Conference toward fulfilling the settlement.
Closing the chapter
“We are glad to close this chapter and focus our energies on building upon the terrific 2010-11 year Kansas State student-athletes have had both on the playing field and in the classroom,” Currie said in a statement.
Both sides were to argue their cases in front of a jury beginning June 13 in Riley County District Court.
“Both sides wanted to put all this behind them,” said Wichita lawyer Craig Shultz, who also represents Prince. “The only way to do that was to settle now.”
The lawsuit began when K-State claimed Krause overstepped his bounds by negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Prince that contained the $3.2 million buyout. Former president Jon Wefald insisted the agreement was made without his knowledge and that Krause did not have the authority to make such a deal without his involvement.
The agreement was inadvertently discovered by K-State in 2009, it said, and the university responded by launching a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the deal.
“From our perspective, the cash payment is fair,” Shultz said, “and as good as getting the full payments listed in the contract over time.”
Shultz said a part of the settlement includes a statement by K-State that clears Prince of any wrongdoing.
The statement says: “Neither the University nor K-State Athletics contends or believes that in negotiating his employment agreement or the MOU (memorandum of understanding), Coach Prince engaged in any wrongful or unethical conduct. Discovery has demonstrated that this situation was not of Coach Prince’s making.”
It’s safe to say the case will be remembered for years.
Not only was it a first-of-its-kind dispute, it led to a regime change within the athletic department.
Putting all that behind it could have impacted the settlement on K-State’s end.
“I think it’s a favorable outcome for Prince,” said Michael McCann, a Vermont law professor who also works as a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated. “For the school, there is a benefit to having closure to litigation. I don’t know what the value of that is, because it’s hard to quantify, but this lawsuit has attracted a lot of publicity that the school doesn’t want.
“It will provide closure, whereas if it goes through litigation, regardless of who wins and loses, you still have the possibility of appeals and public statements. You can certainly see why the school wants to settle it and have some closure even if it means paying Prince a substantial amount of money.”
Arguments made during a hearing for summary judgment last fall in Riley County District Court appeared to give Prince the advantage.
“He probably had the stronger argument,” McCann said. “It seemed that the athletic director either had authority (to negotiate a coaching contract) or one could presume he had authority, and in either case Prince would likely win.
“I think Prince had the stronger legal argument heading into the case, but there is still a benefit to Prince for settling. It ends all risk of losing.”
Prince was hired at K-State in 2005 and coached the Wildcats for three seasons, going 17-20 during his tenure. He was fired in 2008 with three games remaining in the season.
Krause, who had already taken a new role at a K-State satellite campus in Olathe, resigned from his position when news of the second buyout with Prince became public. Wefald retired in 2009.
Kirk Schulz took his place as K-State president, and John Currie followed Krause as athletic director. Prince is an assistant offensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts.