Joan Cronan, former women’s athletics director at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been named the first recipient of the newly established NCAA President’s Pat Summitt Award.                               

Created this year, the Pat Summitt Award 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.

Pat Summitt Coaching Tree

“Pat Summitt embodied the NCAA’s mission of providing opportunities to college athletes through sport,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “This award will continue to honor her achievements for many years to come while recognizing collegiate administrators and coaches who — like Pat and Joan — work tirelessly for the academic success and well-being of college athletes. Joan’s exemplary career in women’s athletics, including the addition of four women’s sports to Tennessee’s athletics department under her leadership, fostered opportunities for countless young women to succeed in sport and in life.”

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, and annual giving to support women’s athletics increased to $2 million per year. Cronan 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 Cronan’s tenure. Cronan also started a community service component that emphasized civic responsibility as part of an athletics experience at the university. She is now the women’s athletics director emeritus at Tennessee.

A look back at Pat Summitt

“Pat Summitt’s interest was always the student part of the student-athlete first,” Cronan said. “She felt that her basketball court was a classroom, and she was a wonderful teacher. It’s wonderful that the NCAA will honor her not just for her coaching but for her making a difference, and that’s why I’m so honored to receive this award.”

Award recipients are selected annually by the NCAA president and will 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 plans to donate the funds to the Pat Summitt Foundation.

“When Pat told me that she’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she said that she’d always thought that she would be remembered for winning basketball games, but that she hoped she’d be remembered for making a difference in this disease,” Cronan said. “And this award, with the donation component, is going to allow us to do that.”

The first NCAA President’s Pat Summitt Award will be presented Jan. 19 during the opening business session at the 2017 NCAA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.