Joan Cronan was 12 years old and growing up in the town of Opelousas in southern Louisiana. “I was a tomboy before it was cool for women to be in sports,” the UT women’s athletic director told a lunch gathering this week.
She was really looking forward to signing up to play Little League baseball so, when tryouts were scheduled, she hurried over to the ball field. “I knew I was better than the boys because I’d already been beating them in the backyard,” she said.
But guess what. The coach told her girls weren’t allowed to try out. She was shocked. And motivated. “I knew right then that I would be in the business of teaching women to compete,” she said.
Today, Cronan is in her 27th year as UT women’s athletic director. She told the Powell Business and Professional Association how she views her job. “Athletics is the front porch of the university,” she said. “It’s not the most important part of the house, but it’s the first thing you see. Our job is to get people to come into the house. My job is to keep the front porch strong and appealing and clean.”
Cronan said her position actually requires her to be in three distinct lines of business. “The first is the business of education,” she said. “We have 240 female athletes who need to get their degrees and also learn from participating in sports.”
The second line of business, she said, is actually running a business. “Athletics is a $100 million business at UT,” she noted. “I have to be sure the business of women’s athletics is sound.”
The third line of business is entertainment. “We want you to watch us,” she said. “We want you to have fun and buy our concessions and t-shirts.”
Here are some other highlights of Cronan’s talk:
- UT leads the country in attendance at women’s basketball games with an average crowd of 15,000 per game. The next in the average size of crowd in the Southeastern Conference is Vanderbilt, with an average attendance of 5,000. If you count attendance at all men’s and women’s basketball games — pros and college levels — the Lady Vols are in seventh place. (Wow!)
- Candace Parker is the best player ever to have played the game, Cronan said unequivocably.
- When the heavily recruited Parker came to UT in 2004, she told Cronan and Coach Pat Summitt she selected UT because, “Where else in America would they be scalping tickets to a women’s basketball game?”
- Title IX, which requires that women and men have equal opportunity in college sports, has been a success she said. “I don’t need a study to show me that,” Cronan said. “All I have to do is get on an airplane.” She said when she tells the person — usually a man — in the seat beside her what her job is, he invariably starts telling her how good his daughter or granddaughter is in a certain sport. “Ladies and gentlemen, Title Nine is working when moms and dads and grandmothers and granddads want the same thing for their daughters and granddaughters that they want for their sons and grandsons.”
- Pat Summitt is the finest coach in America, she said. Not just in women’s basketball, but across the board.
- In response to a question, Cronan poo-pooed the idea of UT combining its women’s and men’s athletic departments. UT is one of only two programs in America that separate the two departments. Cronan and Men’s Athletic Director Mike Hamilton both report to the chancellor. She doesn’t want that to change. “As long as it’s this way, the Lady Vols will never lose their identity or their power,” she said. By “power,” she said she meant “voice” or ability to be heard.
- At UT, football and men’s and women’s basketball are the only sports that make money. UT is one of only 12 schools in America where athletics make money.