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Vanderbilt’s Candice Storey Lee becomes SEC’s first full-time female athletic director

Lee is the fifth woman in charge of a Power Five program and the second African-American woman.
In this Feb. 5 file photo, Candice Storey Lee answers questions during a news conference introducing her as Vanderbilt's interim athletic director in Nashville, Tenn.
In this Feb. 5 file photo, Candice Storey Lee answers questions during a news conference introducing her as Vanderbilt's interim athletic director in Nashville, Tenn. [ MARK HUMPHREY | AP ]
Published May 22, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt has removed the interim title, making Candice Storey Lee the first woman to be a full-time athletic director overseeing men’s and women’s sports in the SEC.

With Vanderbilt’s announcement Wednesday, Lee now is among only five women in charge of a Power Five program and the second African-American woman. Daniel Diermeier, who takes over as Vanderbilt’s chancellor 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."

Lee, 41, a former Commodores basketball captain, was named interim athletic director Feb. 4 when Malcolm Turner resigned after one year. That made Lee the first woman to run athletics at Vanderbilt. She said she was incredibly honored and could not be in the 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 is the only other woman to have been at least an interim athletic director at an SEC school, the conference said. She was the interim AD for the Volunteers for approximately three months in 2011. Cronan and Bev Lewis at Arkansas were in charge of women’s departments when both schools had separate athletic departments.

Lee joins Carla Williams at Virginia as the only African-American female athletic directors at Power Five schools. The other female athletic directors at Power Five programs are Sandy Barbour at Penn State, Jennifer Cohen at Washington and Heather Lyke at Pittsburgh.

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 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 female 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 football and women’s basketball.

Lee is a former member of the NCAA women’s basketball rules committee, former chairwoman of the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse committee and a former chairwoman of the SEC Senior Woman Administrators.