Joan Cronan

Joan Cronan

CLEVELAND — The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) announced that former University of Tennessee (UT) Women’s Athletics Director and NACDA Past President Joan Cronan has been selected as the recipient of the 52nd James J. Corbett Memorial Award, the highest honor one can achieve in collegiate athletics administration.

Cronan served as NACDA President in 2008-09. She will be honored at the James J. Corbett Awards Luncheon sponsored by Under Armour on Friday, June 29, in conjunction with the 2018 NACDA & Affiliates Convention at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

“Joan has been in the front row of every leadership position within NACDA during her time on campus and still is today in her retirement, as she is a familiar face at many of our annual meetings,” said NACDA Executive Director Bob Vecchione.

“Throughout her illustrious career, the Association has grown and prospered. This is evident in that we are expecting more than 7,000 attendees at our 53rd Convention in Washington, D.C. This year after just four months, 29 women were hired as athletics directors across the country, and that is due in large part to the path that Joan paved for women in sport. I am proud of her peers for recognizing her with this prestigious award.”

Cronan has served on the United States Sports Academy Board of Trustees since 2014.  She also received the Academy’s 2011 Carl Maddox Sports Management Award, which is given annually to an individual for contributions to the growth and development of sport enterprise through effective management practices.

“The United States Sports Academy congratulates Joan Cronan on this well-deserved honor acknowledging her substantial contributions to sport, and we also appreciate her wise counsel and valuable service as a member of the Academy’s Board of Trustees,” said Academy President and CEO Dr. T.J. Rosandich.

The Corbett Award is presented annually to the collegiate administrator who “through the years has most typified Corbett’s devotion to intercollegiate athletics and worked unceasingly for its betterment.” Corbett, athletics director at Louisiana State University, was NACDA’s first president in 1965. Additionally, Cronan will receive an honorary degree from the Sports Management Institute (SMI), an educational institute sponsored by NACDA and the universities of Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Southern California and Texas, and automatic induction into the NACDA Hall of Fame.

Cronan is the first female to receive the Corbett award since 2010 (Barbara Hedges, University of Washington) and the only recipient to graduate from LSU, the institution where the Corbett name became synonymous with the highest levels of success in athletics administration.

“Receiving the Corbett award and being honored by your peers is so very special and humbling,” said Cronan. “So many people helped and supported me along the way, it is difficult to name just a few. I hope I can give back in a similar way to those who are just beginning in this industry. NACDA has played a critical part in my professional and personal life. I have often said, ‘A leader is a person with a vision AND a sphere of influence to make it happen.’ NACDA increases all of our spheres of influence.”

Cronan served as the women’s athletics director at Tennessee for 29 years until 2012. During her tenure, Tennessee expanded women’s varsity sports from seven to 11, the Lady Vols earned 10 NCAA titles and 24 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Tournament Championships and annual giving to support women’s athletics increased to $2 million per year. She prioritized academics with student-athletes, leading an initiative that stressed class attendance and engagement. As a result, female student-athletes earned an average 93 percent Graduation Success Rate during her tenure. Cronan also started a community service component that emphasized civic responsibility as part of an athletics experience at the university.

In 2017, Cronan was honored by the NCAA with the inaugural Pat Summitt Award, which recognizes an individual in the Association’s membership for positively influencing college athletes and their experiences through the individual’s careerlong commitment to advocating for college sports. Award recipients are selected annually by the NCAA President and receive a $10,000 honorarium to donate to the organization of the honoree’s choice that combats or researches neurological diseases of the brain. Cronan donated the funds to the Pat Summitt Foundation.

Prior to her NACDA Presidency, Cronan served as President of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA), now Women Leaders in College Sports, in 2007-08. During that time she was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and before that, she was recognized by NACDA as Southeast Region Athletics Director of the Year in 2003-04.

In 1998, Cronan’s work earned her accord from the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame, as she was named its Administrator of the Year. In March 1987, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) presented her with its leadership award. She also won NACWAA’s 1995 regional award.

Throughout her career, Cronan served on the NCAA’s Executive Committee, Management Council, as well as the NCAA’s Council, and was a member of the NCAA Championship Cabinet. She was also a member of the SEC Executive Committee.

Cronan joined UT from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where she served as the athletics director for 10 years and was later inducted into that institution’s hall of fame. Under Cronan, the school was selected as the No. 1 women’s athletics program in the country in 1980 by the American Women’s Sports Foundation.

Cronan published her first book entitled, Sport is Life with the Volume Turned Up, in 2015. The book offers her refreshing and innovative perspective on strengthening performance and achieving success in both the business world and everyday life.

She is the mother of Kristi (Mrs. Rhett Benner) and Stacey (Mrs. Kent Bristow), both 1994 graduates of UT. She is the proud grandmother to three grandsons, Chase and Reed Bristow, and Quinn Benner; and two granddaughters, Reese Lauren Benner and Larkin Ann Bristow. She lost her husband Tom, in August 2006, after his valiant battle with pancreatic cancer.

NACDA, now in its 53rd year, is the professional and educational Association for more than 15,700 college athletics administrators at more than 1,700 institutions throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. More than 6,500 athletics administrators annually attend NACDA & Affiliates Convention Week. Additionally, NACDA manages 17 professional associations and three foundations. For more information on NACDA, visit

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports.

The Academy is based in Daphne, Ala.  For more information, call (251) 626-3303 or visit