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Hagins Is Close to Settlement : Jurisprudence: Catcher agrees to drop lawsuit if Arizona State releases him from letter of intent.

December 10, 1993|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attorneys for baseball player Stephan Hagins and Arizona State are on the verge of an out-of-court settlement, the terms of which will include Hagins dropping his lawsuit against the school today in exchange for ASU releasing him from his letter of intent.

Hagins, a standout catcher from University High, filed suit against ASU last week, claiming the school's refusal to allow him to play because of a heart-valve condition constitutes handicap discrimination that is illegal under the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

According to attorneys Joe Rocco of Phoenix and Dave Smith of Newport Beach, Hagins, a freshman, has since received medical clearance from an Oregon cardiologist and will transfer to a Division I school in Southern California in time for the 1994 season. Hagins could not be reached Thursday, but Pepperdine is believed to be his top choice.

"Two months ago Steve didn't have medical clearance to play, and today he's on his way back to a baseball field," Smith said. "We believe Arizona State is going to save its battle for another day with another athlete."

Paul Ward, ASU general counsel, could not be reached Thursday.

NCAA rules state that a student-athlete who has not been at a school for one full academic year must sit out two years after transferring to another school. But if an athlete and school agree to a "mutual release" from a letter of intent, the athlete would have to sit out only one season.

However, John Park, ASU's compliance and eligibility coordinator, said the school is pushing for a "full release," for Hagins, which would mean he would be eligible to play immediately at a new school. Such a release must be approved by the Collegiate Commissioners Assn., which consists of commissioners from various conferences.

"The goal is for him to play this spring," Rocco said.

But wouldn't Hagins face some of the same medical hurdles at a new school that he encountered at ASU? Hagins was examined in August by Dr. Joseph Perloff, a UCLA Medical Center cardiologist who deemed Hagins' aortic stenosis--which involves a defective heart valve that can be clogged over a period of time--to be worse than previously diagnosed.

Hagins had been medically cleared to play through high school and batted .507 and earned Times All-County honors last spring as a senior. But in an Aug. 4 letter to ASU, Perloff stated, " . . . the patient is strongly advised to desist from competitive sports. He should not plan a career as a pro athlete by any standard of judgment."

Hagins underwent an aortic valvuplasty to clear the aorta on Aug. 11, but the university, fearing for Hagins' health and possible litigation should he suffer a catastrophic injury, didn't allow him to play.

Rocco said the Oregon cardiologist found that Hagins' condition wasn't as severe as Perloff claimed, and that playing baseball, as opposed to football or basketball, did not constitute a serious health risk.

"The way I see it, any school he goes to has a qualified cardiologist giving him medical clearance," Rocco said. "Regardless of what Perloff said, the school can rely on this doctor's opinion because it's subsequent to Perloff's findings and the surgery to improve his condition."

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