By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
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By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
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The message from the Nardil scandal seemed clear, Vollen and others say. Medical decisions about athletes were to ultimately rest with the team physician, who reports to the student health services department. Those decisions were not to be made by coaches or administrators within the athletic department.
But Vollen says it did not take long before she began to see the difference between policy and reality.
For almost two years, Vollen and Harris--with team physician Steve Zonner caught in between--would wage a battle for final authority over medical decisions involving athletes.
To a large extent, the battle is chronicled in the hundreds of documents Vollen took with her upon leaving ASU.
@body:Although there had been skirmishes before, the greatest battles between Charles Harris and the student health department began during the summer of 1992.
Medical care for two athletes in particular, numerous internal university documents show, spawned a veritable barrage of electronic mail and memos between Vollen, team physician Steve Zonner, the athletic department and various other ASU administrators.
(Zonner, who has since left the university for private practice, declined to discuss his tenure at ASU. Attempts to contact various ASU administrators involved were unsuccessful. One of the athletes involved in the dispute declined, through an intermediary, to comment. Attempts to contact the other athlete also were unsuccessful.)
During the 1992 track and field season, Lamont Dailey, a hurdler on the ASU team, had suffered heart palpitations, dizziness and fatigue while running. The athlete was diagnosed with a heart condition, and signed a waiver to continue competing.
He was warned by a heart specialist about "the potential increased risk of cardiac death over time with this condition," university documents show.
That summer, when the season was over, Zonner scheduled a surgical procedure--called a catheter ablation--to lessen the palpitations and decrease the risk of heart failure. It was an expensive operation and would cost between $12,000 and $15,000. Dailey did not have insurance to cover the procedure, and Zonner expected the university would pay, as it often did for athletic-related injuries.
On the eve of the operation, Zonner subsequently told Vollen, Harris effectively blocked the surgery by decreeing that the athletic department would not pay for it.
"I was sternly reprimanded by Charles Harris for authorizing the procedure," Zonner wrote later in a memo to Vollen and other administrators.
Harris, documents show, contended that the athlete's condition was genetic and, therefore, not related to athletics. As such, Harris said, it would violate NCAA regulations for the university to provide the procedure. Vollen and Zonner strongly disagreed, arguing that Harris was not qualified to decide if the runner's medical condition was related to sports.
Volleys of fervent messages and memos ensued.
"No more than I would expect me to practice medicine would anyone on this campus expect you to know the NCAA rules. It is not your conclusion to reach," Harris said in an electronic message to Vollen on June 15, 1992.
Several days later, in a message to an attorney at the ASU general counsel's office, Vollen pointedly challenged Harris' qualifications to decide if a medical condition was athletically related or not.
"Harris should not be the one who interprets what constitutes a medical violation. He is unable to. . . ." Vollen wrote. "Frankly, the determination of an illness[s] or injury[s] relation to performance and sports injury is very complicated. Hats off to Charles for trying to face this challenging task. However, I must insist that this is an area of medical expertise."
The internal war of words raged for weeks, with Vollen arguing that the university should provide the runner treatment and Harris and the athletic department fighting that treatment tooth and nail.
Throughout the debate, Dailey and his mother were kept in the dark about the dispute, documents show. Harris would not even talk to the runner's mother.
"I would like to touch base with the family (Yes, there still is a human life in limbo)," Vollen said in a late July memo to the general counsel's office. "Can we establish a timetable? I am very concerned that lack of compassionate communication with the family will trigger bad feelings."
Ultimately, the university did not pay for the runner's treatment. Vollen says she was able to make arrangements for Dailey to undergo the procedure back in his home state, paid for by his mother's medical insurance.
Just as the debate over the runner's treatment was winding down, an incident involving a second athlete again inflamed relations between student health and the athletic department.
In August 1992, Mario Bennett, a star basketball player, injured his knee while home in Texas playing a pickup game. NCAA regulations clearly state that a university may not pay for treatment of injuries suffered by athletes over the summer, when they are not in school training for or participating in their sport.
ASU did not pay for the surgery Bennett needed, internal documents show. Harris and other athletic department officials, however, did go to great lengths to make sure he received it.
Harris, documents show, tapped a "needy students fund" administered by the Pacific-10 Conference for special hardship cases. Arrangements were made for an orthopedic surgeon to donate his time to perform the operation at St. Joseph's Hospital.