Baker grew up in central Pennsylvania, and was always active in sports. He played a variety of sports, but was mainly interested in basketball. He pursued his athletic path at Pennsylvania State University where he went for his B.A. in Education. Unfortunately, early on in his time there, he was forced to end his career as an athlete - nine knee surgeries and a torn Achilles tendon were evidence of the physical demands of his active lifestyle. Luckily, though, Baker realized the opportunity that coaching would provide him. He became a coach and administrator in multiple sports within the Penn State Athletics Department.
After obtaining his undergraduate degree in education and a master's in athletics, Baker started to consider a doctoral program. His master's advisor steered him toward the College of William and Mary, which seemed to fit Baker's desire for a school with a manageable athletic department and great higher education. He also liked the College's atmosphere, and the fact that there was a close-knit group of faculty members with whom he could connect. Though he also applied to Cornell University, the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baker "just got the best feel from William and Mary."
While at William and Mary, Baker was able to intern with the Development Office. This position, along with the experience he gained in athletics administration through his doctorate, helped him obtain a job after his time at the College. He started at Ashland University in Ohio, where he created a sports management program and served as Chair of the Department of Sport Science. Since then, he's moved to George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va., where he is the associate professor and coordinator of sport management. Baker runs the sports management program, which was developed only recently by the graduate program. He teaches classes, conducts research, and is working on a few book projects simultaneously.
"It's exciting to be part of a program like sports management because it's relatively new and very popular in terms of student interest," says Baker.
Every day on the job is different for Baker, as well as every semester; this semester he is focusing mainly on administrative duties, which has a lot to do with a sports diplomacy project he's helping lead. In November, Baker and some colleagues went to India to train sport managers and athletic leaders there, as well as hold athletics workshops for children. This project is a collaborative effort on behalf of George Mason University, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and the J.D. Walsh Basketball School. The workshops and camps were a great success, and U.S. Ambassador to India Tim Roemer even came to show his support. Baker and his colleagues will be returning to India in April to conduct the program in several more cities. He loves this project, as he thinks sports are a "kind of universal language, and that's the neat thing about it." He hopes it will continue to expand the possibilities for sports diplomacy in the future.
Other things that keep Baker busy are his positions as executive council member of the North American Society for Sports Management (NASSM) and inaugural commissioner for the newly-developed Commission on Sports Management Accreditation (COSMA). His work does not go unnoticed - in June, Baker is being awarded with NASSM's distinguished Sports Management Educator Award.
What Baker enjoys most about his line of work is that he can "move down different paths of interest." Though he loves his current roles in the sports management and education world, he is interested in several other projects. He and his wife, Pam Baker '84, M.Ed. '87, works in special education, have worked together with the idea of including special athletes in certain circumstances, which is something he'd like to pursue. He also enjoys mentoring younger faculty members. Though Baker notes that the "solitary parts" of his career are "challenging sometimes," he also explains that there are "plenty of opportunities for interaction and impact" and that "that's the really rewarding part of it."
As far as words of wisdom for younger sports management enthusiasts, Baker advises a theoretical foundation and experience in the field, noting that "it's important that there's a balance there." A favorite quote - "Life's a contact sport" - summarizes his outlook on how people have the opportunity to "become a part of, plug in, build, and add to their network." Most importantly, Baker emphasizes his career field itself, explaining that "there are a lot of opportunities that people haven't seen or thought about yet in the world of sports."
More and more, he notes, it is going to take "those creative and driven people to continue to push for more and different kinds" of these opportunities. Fortunately, Baker has helped lay down the foundation for these up-and-coming young minds. Thanks to him, the world of sports is expanding for the better.