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Country Roads Trust forms to help WVU athletes

MORGANTOWN — As name, image and likeness deals continue to redefine the landscape of college athletics and recruiting, there are some taking proactive steps to ensure the competitiveness of their preferred institutions.

Inspired by similar ventures cropping up across the country, West Virginia University alumni Ken Kendrick and Oliver Luck announced Wednesday the creation of Country Roads Trust LLC, a company independent of WVU that will help Mountaineer student-athletes find NIL opportunities.

“It’s a response from the marketplace,” Luck said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “There’s enough passion around college athletics that it doesn’t take much for folks like Ken” to get involved.

Luck, a former WVU quarterback and athletic director, said Kendrick, principal owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, called him about a month ago and expressed concerns that WVU could be left behind amid the coming wave of NIL deals. From there, Luck, Kendrick and the Bowles Rice law firm went about setting up Country Roads Trust with the intention to provide WVU student-athletes with as many NIL opportunities as possible.

Institutions “do not want to facilitate these deals, they want to stay out of that space,” Luck said. “They want to educate students about what NIL is, reminding them to do their taxes, etc., but they don’t want to be in the business of facilitating or arranging these deals.”

Luck said he reached out and spoke to similar companies set up in Tallahassee, Florida, Columbia, South Carolina, Austin, Texas and the state of Washington.

“Ideally, these entities are creating NIL opportunities for students in those markets,” he said. “This is really the same effort that Ken and I are making because we want our West Virginia student-athletes to have the same, if not better, opportunities with NIL as their colleagues do across the country.”

Luck said such efforts will become important as NIL deals figure to play an ever-increasing role in the recruiting decisions of potential student-athletes.

“Opportunities with NIL have become a factor (in recruiting) right along with ‘do I like the coaching staff’, ‘is it close enough to home for my parents to come see me play’ and ‘are the academics of the institution good,'” Luck said. “This is just one more factor that I think will be considered as students make choices about their universities as either high schoolers, already enrolled or in the (transfer) portal.”

Student-athletes at WVU will voluntarily sign up with Country Roads Trust and the Trust will contact business entities locally, statewide and beyond in an attempt to provide as many NIL opportunities as possible.

“We will encourage student-athletes at WVU to sign up,” Luck said. “(We’ll ask) ‘are you interested in being a member of this trust?’ If you are, we will go out and identify as many appropriate opportunities as we possibly can.’ There won’t be pressure for them to sign up but we will provide the opportunities for those who want those opportunities.

“Of course, there needs to be a quid pro quo,” he continued. “A business has to see some value in providing an NIL opportunity. There does need to be a quid pro quo and we want the Trust to be able to monitor that.”

Along with NIL opportunities, Country Roads Trust also aims to provide student-athletes with counsel, guidance and advice from an advisory team made up of several prominent former Mountaineers.

Included on the team are WVU legends Jerry West, Don Nehlen, Pat White, Darryl Talley and Da’Sean Butler, along with rising media star and former WVU punter Pat McAfee, current Cleveland Cavaliers assistant general manager Mike Gansey, Olympic gold medalist in rifle Ginny Thrasher, former WVU gymnast Jaida Lawrence Hart and former Major League Baseball player Jedd Gyorko.

“We are proud to bring this program to Mountaineer Nation,” Kendrick said in a statement Wednesday. “Recruiting in the college athletic world has never been more competitive, and the time has come where Mountaineer fans across the board can step up and give our Mountaineer athletes the same — if not more — opportunities as other student-athletes across the country.”

The leadership staff for the day-to-day operations of Country Roads Trust is expected to be announced later this week.

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