Unprecedented BIG EAST success highlights 2013-14 Athletics Department Awards Banquet
One of the nation's most widely respected leaders in intercollegiate athletics and a driving force behind the continuing expansion and development of DePaul's athletics program, Jean Lenti Ponsetto is now in her 13th year as DePaul's Director of Athletics and her 40th as a member of the Blue Demon athletic family.
Jeanne was named to her current position on July 1, 2002 and the Blue Demons have experienced tremendous success both on and off the playing field ever since. Ponsetto also guided the DePaul efforts in 2003 when the University announced it would join the BIG EAST Conference in 2005.
An advocate for student-athlete welfare, Ponsetto initiated and provided the leadership for the Sullivan-McGrath Athletics Capital Campaign which has yielded the funding resources for the renovation of Wish Soccer Field, the creation of the Cacciatore Softball Stadium and renovation of the Cherry Family Indoor Track at the Ray Meyer Center.
Ponsetto had an active role in helping to organize the new BIG EAST Conference which debuted on July 1, 2013 with seven members of the previous conference (DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova) along with three new members (Butler, Creighton, Xavier).
She was also involved in the new DePaul basketball arena to be located near McCormick Place and scheduled to open in the 2016-17 season.
During her first 12 years at the helm of the department, 14 of the 15 Blue Demon athletic programs have represented the school in NCAA championships including 12 straight NCAA appearances by the women's basketball team, two trips to the Women's College World Series for the softball program, and the men's soccer team's initial trip to the NCAA Tournament after winning the BIG EAST Conference regular season title.
Success has also come in the classroom during Ponsetto's tenure as more than 1,000 Blue Demon student-athletes have been named to conference academic honor rolls. The golf team was academic national champion in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. In 2012-13, women's basketball was ranked second nationally in the WBCA Academic Top 25 after finishing third in 2011-12.
The most-recent example of the academic success was during a span of 13 days following the end of the 2013-14 academic year that saw DePaul teams honored with six academic accolades. Men's golf and the track and field programs were recognized for their outstanding achievement and 154 student-athletes were named to BIG EAST All-Academic Team. The final accolade saw five program earn the BIG EAST's Team Academic Award marking the fourth straight year that DePaul has led the conference in the team academic honors.
DePaul led the BIG EAST Conference with eight 2012-13 Team Academic Excellence Awards for having the highest collective grade-point averages in each conference sport. Women's basketball, golf, men's soccer, women's soccer, men's tennis, women's tennis, women's indoor track and field and women's outdoor track and field all accumulated the highest team GPA for their respective sports.
The 2008-09 academic year saw the men's track and field program post the highest cumulative grade-point average in the country by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Among the 16 programs in the BIG EAST Conference, the Blue Demons led the way academically in women's basketball, men's cross country, women's cross country, men's soccer, women's tennis, men's indoor track and field and men's outdoor track and field.
In the spring of 2009, she was named Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year for the NCAA Division I Central Region. For the second time in her career, Ponsetto was presented NACWAA's Administrator of the Year Award in 2003 and was the organization's president in 2005-06. She added duties as president of the Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association (D1-AAA ADA) for 2009-10. Prior to being named president, she was the second vice president for the I-AAA Athletics Directors Association.
A former four-sport standout for DePaul, Ponsetto boasts a wealth of experience in three areas of DePaul athletics: as a student-athlete, coach and administrator. She had spent seven years as the senior associate director of athletics after serving 12 years as the associate director and two as an assistant director before assuming her current job in 2002.
Aside from her duties at DePaul, she has served on numerous NCAA committees including a joint NCAA/USOC Task Force.
Ponsetto served the NCAA as a member of the Division I Men's Basketball Enhancement Group and is an NCAA Champion, a program highlighting key NCAA administrators to act as spokespeople from the membership on NCAA issues. Ponsetto also chairs the Honda Awards Board of Directors and the Wade Trophy Selection Committee and is the past president of NACWAA and a member of the NACDA Division I-AAA Board of Directors. In recent years, Ponsetto served on the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Issues Committee, the Division I Women's Basketball Task Force, the Division I Recruiting/Early Scholarship Offer Working Group, the NCAA Amateurism Clearinghouse Advisory Group and the NCAA Work/Life Balance Task Force.
Ponsetto spent a five-year term as Chair of the 49-member NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet, a position she assumed in 1998 after one year as a member of the Cabinet. She was the first woman to chair a Cabinet and had the longest tenure as a Cabinet chair. Under Ponsetto's leadership, the Championships/Competition Cabinet had several accomplishments, most notably the expansion of championship opportunities to include all conference champions, an improved awards program, a review of the Association's bylaws with regard to playing and practice seasons, authorization and format structure for all championships, establishment of a comprehensive certification process for the I-A Football Bowl Games and certified events. During her tenure she was a member of the NCAA Division I Budget Committee and served as an adviser to the NCAA President during the NCAA negotiations with ESPN which yielded additional championship appearances and revenue for the Association.
In 1999, she was one of only eight women appointed to the 29-person NCAA Division I Working Group to Study Men's and Women's Basketball Issues. This committee was formed to review matters important to the Division I membership such as freshman eligibility, graduation rates, summer recruiting, student-athlete welfare, gambling, agents and outside influences.
Ponsetto also served as a member of the NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Marketing Committee, which developed a plan for the potential growth in attendance and television viewership for both men's and women's basketball.
She served on the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee from 1992-98 and was chair of the committee her final two years. In this position, Ponsetto was in charge of all aspects of the NCAA Championship including the selection of the 64-team field as well as the administration of the tournament. Additionally, she was selected to serve on the NCAA Basketball Officiating Committee, which oversees the officials' clinics and tournament officiating.
Ponsetto has received several awards for her outstanding work at DePaul and for her leadership serving the NCAA members and student-athletes. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association named her Administrator of the Year at the 1998 Final Four and the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletic Administrators (NACWAA) named her Administrator of the Year that same year. Subsequently, Ponsetto was annually appointed to the NACWAA Board of Directors.
In September 1999, Ponsetto was honored by DePaul with a Spirit of DePaul Award given to five members of the DePaul community for their university leadership and service in the spirit of St. Vincent dePaul.
A gifted public speaker, Ponsetto was the Master of Ceremonies at the 2002 and 2008 Honda Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year Awards Program and has been a faculty member at the NACWAA Executive Institute and a presenter at NCAA Regional Compliance seminars and NCAA Student Leadership Conferences. She is also a frequent guest on radio and television programs regarding issues that face intercollegiate athletics today and has served as a color analyst for Fox Sports Net during telecasts for college basketball, volleyball and softball contests. She also served as a studio analyst in 2000 for ESPN during the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.
Since moving into an administrative position over 20 years ago at DePaul, Ponsetto has had a significant impact on the status of the DePaul intercollegiate sports scene. She introduced four women's sports - indoor and outdoor track, cross country and women's soccer - to varsity status at DePaul. Under her direction DePaul has built several athletic facilities including the Sullivan Athletic Center that opened in 2000, the Ray Meyer Fitness Recreation Center that opened in 1999 and the recently completed projects in Cacciatore Stadium, Wish Field and the Cherry Family Indoor Track. Recently she negotiated long-term contracts with Ruffled Feathers Golf Club as home for the men's golf program as well as Lane Stadium as a home for the men's and women's outdoor track and field teams.
In 1983, Ponsetto was also instrumental in the formation of the North Star Conference of which DePaul was a charter member until leaving the league in 1991. During DePaul's tenure in the North Star, she served as the commissioner from 1987-89. Her stint as commissioner was highlighted by the addition of four new members and the expansion of the sports information services. Jeanne also served as chairperson of the basketball committee for six years.
With the formation of the Great Midwest Conference in 1991 and Conference USA in 1995, Ponsetto added several additional duties to her resume. She was the first chair of the Great Midwest Woman Administrators Committee and was also a member of the Conference USA Compliance Coordinators Committee. She also has been tournament manager for the Great Midwest and Conference USA women's basketball, volleyball, rifle, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's indoor track and men's and women's tennis championships when DePaul served as host. In 1998-99, she served as chair of the Senior Woman Administrators and served on the C-USA Television Committee and both the men's and women's basketball task forces.
Ponsetto was one of 16 administrators selected nationally to serve on the NCAA's Life Skills Task Force in 1993. This was a project sponsored by the NCAA Educational Services to assist institutions in the preparation of student-athletes for the out-of-the classroom learning experiences they encounter. The program components include Academics, Athletics, Personal Development, Community Service and Career Development.
Ponsetto is a member of both NACDA and NACWAA and is also involved in several community and charitable organizations.
Ponsetto, who is a member of the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame, began her association with Blue Demon athletics as a member of the tennis, volleyball and women's basketball teams in 1974-75. She participated in softball when it was added as a varsity sport two years later.
Following graduation in 1978, she was named the school's first assistant women's basketball coach by then head coach Doug Bruno. Ironically, she then hired him as head women's coach when he returned to that position in 1988.
Her work within the Chicago sports scene has been duly noted. Ponsetto was named one of the top 100 most influential women in Chicago by the Chicago Sun-Times (she was ranked second in sports category behind Chicago Bears owner Virginia McCaskey) in 2004, and in the spring of 2003 she was awarded the Leonardo Da Vinci Outstanding Achievement in Education Award by the Sons of Italy. Ponsetto was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, whose membership includes Ray Meyer, Mike Ditka, Walter Payton and Michael Jordan. Most recently, she was honored with induction in the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in November 2014.
Married to former Blue Demon basketball star Joe Ponsetto, the current Assistant Village Manager and Village Prosecutor in west suburban Maywood, she comes from a family intertwined in education and athletics. One brother, Frank Lenti, is head football coach at Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago. In the fall of 1999, the Chicago Tribune named Frank as the high school football coach of the century in Illinois. Another brother, David, is an assistant under Frank with the Caravan. Two other brothers work for the DePaul athletics department as Michael is the Director of Athletic Facilities and Eugene is the school's all-time winningest coach as the head softball coach. Jeanne's sister Marilyn, who recently retired as the Teacher Coordinator for Students with Learning Disabilities in south suburban Dolton, is a DePaul graduate as are Eugene and David.