College athletics has experienced a massive upheaval over the past several years as new rules have changed the experience of the student-athlete.
In April 2021, the NCAA eliminated a rule that required transfers to sit out one year at their university. July 2021 brought major changes as athletes were finally allowed to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL). Additionally, conference realignment has taken over college sports over the past few months as schools attempt to navigate the changing media landscape.
For Athletes.org founder and chairman, Jim Cavale, the changing landscape of college sports required a place where student-athletes can receive support while also gaining a voice in the future of their sports.
"Athletes.org is an organization for college athletes to be able to go to be able to get on-demand support in a lot of places they now need to navigate in college athletics because it’s an ever-evolving landscape," Cavale told Fox News Digital. "And then also to have a voice to be able to speak into the future of college athletics."
"Just like the NCAA has been the association for the college athletic departments since 1906, or the AFCA [American Football Coaches Association] has been the association for the football coaches, there needs to be an association for athletes at this time where there are so many questions that need to be answered as they navigate this new world of college athletics and being a college athlete."
The organization launched on Aug. 23 and will allow athletes the ability to sign up for a free AO membership that includes on-demand support. Members will be able to text for help on any topic while also being given the ability to call a pro bono lawyer with questions.
"We just felt like this was a great time to help them have the resources they need in an on-demand fashion and start to organize their voice based on the sport they play and the conference they play in because they all have different perspectives on what the future should look like," Cavale continued.
Athletes.org will provide athletes with information on brand building, financial education and NIL contracts, and will also create chapters for athletes of each sport to come together and have a say in the future.
"One of the biggest weaknesses in college sports is trying to create one solution for 500,000 student-athletes and thousands of schools," Cavale told Fox News Digital. "That’s not possible. There are differences between Vanderbilt and Alabama, and they’re in the same conference.
"And it’s also a lot of different sports. Football is a lot different than golf," he continued. "So, we need to start getting athletes into their own chapters - it’s what we call them at Athletes.org - based on the sport they play, based on the conference they’re in. And help equip them with the knowledge they need to create their consensus on where things should go. In all categories, not just employment or media revenue sharing, but medical coverage. A football athlete has a much different stance on his need for medical coverage versus a golfer."
"There’s a lot of categories – mental health, social media, NIL, collectives – all these things. Different athletes who play different sports in different leagues have different perspectives and the goal here is to get a conversation started among themselves with experts, and then eventually with the people who are going to help make decisions in the future. Whether it’s Congress, the federal government, or the ADs, commissioners and presidents."
One of the issues Athletes.org seeks to address is that of collectives, which have come about in the NIL era. They have become a necessity for major programs looking to compete, but there also have been instances where athletes have been led astray.
Athletes.org provides a registry for college athletes to verify NIL agents and school collectives.
"We also have a registry in that on-demand support piece. A registry for agents and collectives. There are a lot of agents and collectives that would not make the cut on registrations at the pro level," Cavale said.
"So, I think one of the biggest challenges is bad actors creating fake deals and luring athletes to go to schools, either through the portal or out of high school, and these deals aren’t real," he continued. "There’s no accountability for them. It also ruins it for the agents who operate above board and do a great job for their athletes. It ruins it for the collectives that are doing good work at the schools where they’re helping athletes.
"We also have a background check system. They can run a background check on anyone and get a 48-hour turnaround before they want to work with them or start talking to them. We want to bring accountability to all the different folks coming into this space trying to work with athletes."
Cavale has teamed up with former NFL player Brandon Copeland, co-founder and CEO, to create the 501c non-profit organization.
"As a former college and professional athlete, there were so many moments where I wished I had an organization to go to for advice," Copeland said in a press release. "What we are building with AO, you will have a locker room for life. We want to help as many college athletes as possible, and we’re excited to get started."