Why Wren Baker is a ”star” as a director of athletics The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast

WVU president E. Gordon Gee has tasked new AD Wren Baker with guiding Mountaineer athletics through an "ever-changing landscape" in the world of college sports. What makes him equipped to do that? In this edition of The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast, presented by Pritt & Spano, former congressman Tom McMillen answers that question. McMillen, a former NBA big man and NCAA All-American, is the CEO of Lead1 Association, which represents athletic directors at 131 FBS schools. He explains why Baker is a rising "star" in the industry, and also shares his thoughts on NIL, the transfer portal and more. 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University brought Wren Baker on board to lead the institution to the cutting edge of the new name, image and likeness frontier.

Baker, the university’s 13th director of athletics, described the current age of college athletics as “one of those paradigm-shifting evolutions” as schools across the country grapple with the changing landscape of college sports in the NIL age. Even Baker, who has seen NIL take root in athletics from its inception, is still learning how it works and how to reap its benefits.

“You get clarifications on that, it seems like every three or four weeks at this point,” Baker said. “Certainly, we’re not able to determine who gets money or where it comes from, but we can promote it. I think that’s the right place to be.”

Baker hopped on that promotion train almost immediately after his hire. He appeared in a video on the official social media accounts for Country Roads Trust, the NIL collective that supports WVU student-athletes, imploring fans to contribute to the organization.

The collective was founded by former WVU athletic director Oliver Luck and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, both of whom are Mountaineer alumni. Luck was part of Baker’s hiring process, which likely made his hire easy as they had a relationship before he came to WVU.

“I had a chance to talk to the rest of the staff there at Country Roads Trust. I see them as an asset and a tool and somebody we need to have a relationship with,” Baker said. “Not one that violates the rules, but one that is healthy and does everything it can to provide those opportunities for student-athletes within the rules.”

While Baker is keen to promote NIL opportunities for WVU student-athletes, he says he is sure to take care to stay within the boundaries. That can be difficult as the world of NIL is still fresh and mostly unexplored, but schools across the country are aggressively delving into every corner of it.

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Laws and regulations add to this difficulty as each school has a different set of rules by which they need to play. For example, Baker would not be able to make a video for Country Roads Trust if WVU was in Texas, as it would violate state law.

“At this point, we’re not able to determine who gets money or convey a certain amount or anything like that, but we can promote it. That’s the right place for us to be,” Baker said. Really, NIL, is about opportunities for student-athletes and that’s what we’re for is to provide them opportunities. Opportunities to get degrees, opportunities to excel and grow personally and professionally as well as athletically. It’s important that we embrace that and promote that.”

This is just one of many aspects of his job that Baker will need to familiarize himself with. He still needs to acquaint himself with Mountaineer fans, evaluate the WVU football program and navigate the university into the next chapter of the Big 12 Conference.

However, learning the new world of NIL could be his most challenging.

“It’s certainly a different world and I spend more time on it than I thought I ever would,” Baker said. “This job has evolved a lot during my 20 years.”