Candace Parker endorses Joan Cronan

Candace Parker, one of the most decorated Lady Vols in program history, saluted the choice of Joan Cronan as interim athletics director for the Vols and said she hoped the appointment opens up more opportunities for women to lead major universities.

"I believe she is a phenomenal AD," Candace Parker said in a phone interview Thursday night from Los Angeles with Inside Tennessee. "I think it's the best for the men's program to name her AD, whether it be long term or short term, for it to be in her hands right now because obviously she has done such a great job on the women's side.

"You look across the board how successful women's sports have been – volleyball, track, basketball, soccer, softball, all of the sports have won championships or have been close to winning championships in the last five years."

Parker was a three-time All-American and Wade Trophy winner during her tenure at Tennessee and won back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008 and was twice selected as the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

The commitment of the university to women's athletics was a deciding factor when Parker selected a college after a storied career at Naperville Central High School in Illinois during which she collected All-American and national player of the year honors. The way female athletes were treated at Tennessee was part of Parker's decision to become a Lady Vol.

"It was crucial for me to be able to go to a university where women's athletics were important and by having the two (departments) I feel like it showed that it was truly important to the university," Parker said. "Women's athletics mattered. It wasn't just something that they had because they were legally supposed to have a certain amount of scholarships. It was something that was important to the university."

Parker was the first pick in the 2008 WNBA draft and earned Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in her first season with the Los Angeles Sparks. After missing the majority of the 2010 season to repair her shoulder – an injury Parker sustained in the NCAA Regional Final against Texas A&M in 2008 and then helped lead Tennessee to its eighth national title with essentially one arm – she is back with the Sparks this summer. Parker also has an Olympic gold medal on her resume from Beijing in 2008 and is expected to be on the 2012 team that competes in London.

Parker is married to NBA player Shelden Williams and they have a daughter, Lailaa, who just turned two years old. As a successful female athlete – she is a multimillionaire from her adidas shoe contract and other endorsements, including Gatorade, plus her professional salary from overseas and summer stint with the WNBA – Parker is encouraged to see opportunities expand for women.

Although there are other women athletic directors – Debbie Yow at N.C. State, Jean Lenti Ponsetto at DePaul and Kathy Beauregard at Western Michigan, to name three – it is a first for an SEC school to place a female in the top position of the Athletics Department.

"I do believe that it is a major step, and I do believe that it is a positive step for women," Parker said. "I think that Tennessee has taken that stand in their coaching with Pat Summitt and in terms of their treatment of women's athletics at the University of Tennessee.

"I hope it will become more of a trend. I would like to see more women in that position. I hope maybe more eyes will be open that women should be candidates and can hold that position."

Tennessee is one of only two Division I universities – the other is Texas – to split its athletics departments into men's and women's. When Cronan retires in 2012 and spends the final two years of her contract as a special consultant, Tennessee will move to place both the men and women under the umbrella of one AD.

Parker believes the division was key to the growth and success of the Lady Vols' programs at Tennessee and she hopes the groundwork has been permanently laid to continue that, regardless of administrative hierarchy going forward.

"I do feel like that was vital in the success at the University of Tennessee because I think that we had our own person to go, not to fight our battles but to recognize things that needed to change for women athletes," Parker said.

"I am kind of saddened to hear that the position is going to go away when Joan retires, but I do feel like hopefully the AD that comes in in the future will recognize how important that the women's athletic department can be. From top to bottom it's hard to think of another university, with the exception of maybe a Texas, that has had the amount of success as Tennessee."

Parker wants to see the Lady Vols signature logo remain – an iconic image that rakes in six-figure revenue through sales of clothing, hats, memorabilia and paraphernalia. Cronan said Thursday that the logo would stay intact

"I do think it is important for that logo to stay," Parker said. "I remember we were playing an away game, I think in Alabama or somewhere, and they put up the men's logo for us.

"It was just weird. Every time we would score it would be under that logo, and everybody was like, ‘That's not our logo.' I don't link myself to that. I link it to the Lady Vol logo."

Parker hopes that the 28-year stewardship of Cronan has carved out a permanent and highly regarded place for women athletes at Tennessee. As interim AD Cronan is now in even better position to help with a seamless transition and also in helping to find a successor, who essentially will be succeeding two people – Cronan and Mike Hamilton, who retired this week after both football and men's basketball fell under major scrutiny by the NCAA.

"I really hope that things don't change, everything stays in place, and women's athletics are granted the same things that the men are and that we have a person to go to and talk to to make sure that those things don't change and everything is kept equal," Parker said.

Parker is also a Tennessee alum and speaks as both a fan and graduate of the university when she acknowledged that she is ready to see the school out of the news because of NCAA issues.

"Very much so," Parker said. "I have an Ohio State player on my team (Jantel Lavender), so it's been a rough couple of weeks for us."

Tennessee faces the NCAA this Saturday. Ohio State, which saw the resignation of its football coach, Jim Tressel, amid scandal, goes before the NCAA later this summer.

"I am looking forward to everything getting back right," Parker said, " and I think with this change it will happen."

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