Vanderbilt's Lee becomes SEC's 1st woman athletic director

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2020, file photo, Vanderbilt interim athletic director Candice Lee answers questions during a news conference in Nashville, Tenn. Vanderbilt has removed the interim title, making Candice Storey Lee the first black woman to become an athletic director in the Southeastern Conference. With Vanderbilt's announcement Wednesday, May 20, 2020, Lee now is among only five women in charge of a Power Five program.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt has removed the interim title, making Candice Storey Lee the first woman to become an athletic director in the Southeastern Conference.

With Vanderbilt's announcement Wednesday, Lee now is among only five women and the second black woman in charge of a Power Five program. Daniel Diermeier, who takes over as Vanderbilt's chancellor on July 1, said Lee is the “living embodiment” of the university's values and aspirations.

“Candice is perfectly positioned to lead our athletics program to new heights of success on and off the field of play,” Diermeier said. "She has the drive, creativity, and perseverance to help elevate our student-athletes, and the entire Vanderbilt Athletics program.

The 41-year-old Lee, a former Commodores basketball captain, was named interim athletic director Feb. 4 when Malcolm Turner resigned after one year on the job for the former NBA G League president. That made Lee the first woman to run athletics at Vanderbilt, and she said she was incredibly honored and could not be in this position without the support of Vanderbilt's leadership, coaches, staff and fans.

“There are challenges ahead and much uncertainty about what college athletics can and should look like during a pandemic, but I firmly believe that anything is possible if we all work together," Lee said.

Tennessee's Joan Cronan was the only other woman to have been at least an interim AD at an SEC school, the conference said. She was the interim for the Volunteers for approximately three months in 2011. Cronan and Bev Lewis at Arkansas both were in charge of women's departments when both schools had separate athletics departments.

Lee joins Carla Williams at Virginia as the only black women athletic directors at a Power Five school, with Sandy Barbour at Penn State, Jennifer Cohen at Washington and Heather Lyke at Pittsburgh the other women ADs.

As a four-year letter winner for Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team, Lee graduated with a degree in human and organizational development in 2000. She also received her master’s degree in counseling from Vanderbilt in 2002, and in 2012, Lee earned her doctorate from Vanderbilt in higher education administration.

She became Vanderbilt’s senior woman administrator in the athletics department in 2004 and deputy athletic director in 2016. In that role, Lee ran the day-to-day operations and also oversaw both football and women’s basketball for the Commodores.

Lee is a former member of the NCAA women’s basketball rules committee, former chair of the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse committee and a former chair of the SEC Senior Woman Administrators. Lee also is on the board of the directors for the YWCA of Middle Tennessee and on the SEC Executive Committee.

Susan R. Wente, Vanderbilt's interim chancellor and provost, said Lee hit the ground running after being appointed interim athletic director earlier this year.

“We will look back and see this decision as a major turning point for Vanderbilt athletics, and our entire university,” Wente said.

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