Why Did It Take Jaden Rashada So Long To Sue Florida Head Coach, Booster for Fraud Over Failed NIL Deal?

    Former Florida signee and Arizona State QB Jaden Rashada has filed a lawsuit against Billy Napier and a huge Gators booster. What took so long?

    On Tuesday, May 21, 2024, current Georgia QB Jaden Rashada became the first known college athlete to sue his coach or a booster for a dispute over a name, image, and likeness (NIL) deal. The former four-star recruit filed a lawsuit against Florida head coach Billy Napier, a significant Gators booster, and others, claiming they defrauded him out of millions, and a summons has since been issued for those named.

    Rashada flipped his commitment from Miami to Florida after watching the Hurricanes struggle in the 2022 season and receiving a $13.85 million NIL agreement from the Gators — an unprecedented amount at the time.

    However, after signing his National Letter of Intent in December of that year, Florida reneged on the deal, forcing Rashada to leave the program and ultimately attend Arizona State, his father’s alma mater, for the 2023 campaign. So, why did it take Rashada and his legal team over a year to sue?

    Georgia QB Jaden Rashada Sues Florida Booster and Head Coach Billy Napier Over NIL Deal

    Rashada decided to sue this offseason to expose “overzealous alumni” taking advantage of athletes in NIL offers. Drafting the suit reportedly took several months to cover all bases.

    “It’s a classic con game on a 19-year-old,” Rashada’s attorney Rusty Hardin said. “‘We’ve taken away our commitment in writing to you, but, trust us, not only is the check in the mail, but you can be comfortable you’re going to get X.’ … And it never happened. … And he leaves not for the money, but because he can no longer trust them.”

    As was widely publicized at the time, Rashada had received a $9.5 million deal from Miami for his services, which he later spurned for the larger sum offered by Florida.

    The deal was reportedly with Hurricanes booster and LifeWallet CEO John Ruiz, although he has since stated that there was never such an agreement between the parties and LifeWallet only had a small deal with Rashada while he was a high school student in California (NIL payments to high school players are legal in the state).

    The lawsuit states the Gators offered $13.85 million over four years, with eight-figure donor Hugh Hathcock putting up $5.35 million. In fact, Hathcock wired $150,000 to Rashada so he could pay back the money he received from Ruiz to avoid potential litigation. That transfer would be the only money Rashada garnered from Florida.

    According to The Athletic, the contract with the Gators had a $500,000 signing bonus, $250,000 a month as a freshman, $291,666.66 a month as a sophomore, $375,000 a month as a junior, and $195,833.33 monthly payments as a senior for several social media obligations, fan events, and autographs.

    Hathcock didn’t want to use his company or collective to fund the NIL payments, so he and Florida director of player engagement and NIL Marcus Castro-Walker opted to run the money through the Gator Collective, a NIL group with separate management and no affiliation to the school’s athletic department.

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    The issue? The Gator Collective typically conducted deals for much smaller amounts and never had a guarantee in writing from donors to cover the amount in Rashada’s contract. The collective has since been disbanded.

    As a result, less than a month after Rashada announced his flip to Florida, the Gator Collective sent a letter to the QB “purporting to terminate” his contract, which included a provision that it could be terminated only with cause. However, Napier and Castro-Walker consoled Rashada, explaining they would “make good” on the deal through Hathcock and his Gator Guard collective.

    The lawsuit called that promise a violation of Florida law.

    Directly following the fallout of Rashada’s decision to leave Florida, the NCAA launched an investigation into the program and asked the school not to conduct its own. It was the second investigation for the Gators in the last four years, as they were placed on probation for a year, and then-HC Dan Mullen received a one-year show-cause penalty for recruiting violations in 2020.

    The governing body prohibits coaches from being involved in NIL deals with current or prospective players, so if Napier did have a hand in the Rashada situation, as the lawsuit states, it wouldn’t be surprising if the NCAA took action.

    As for Florida, it’s unlikely the school will be penalized. The NCAA let the gavel down on Florida State and one of its coaches in January for NIL offers made to players, but the association sent a letter to schools in February explaining that it was pausing all open enforcement cases “involving third-party participation in NIL-related activities.”

    The decision came on the heels of a Tennessee federal judge granting an injunction that prohibited the NCAA from enforcing some of its rules. Suspending Napier or penalizing the Gators could bring on future lawsuits, which the governing body can’t afford with all the antitrust scrutiny it has already endured.

    On the field, losing Rashada didn’t help Napier in the public relations department, especially after the team went 5-7 in 2023. Entering Year 3 fresh off two losing seasons, Napier’s seat is reaching scorching levels, and another disappointing campaign could mark the end of tenure.

    Meanwhile, the Bulldogs certainly don’t mind the negative attention one of their rivals is facing. As CBS reported, Rashada informed head coach Kirby Smart of his intention to file the lawsuit, and Smart “gave his blessing.”

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    Rather than battle Michigan State transfer Sam Leavitt for the starting job at Arizona State, Rashada opted for a fresh start in Athens as a backup QB to starter Carson Beck.

    Barring injury, Rashada will presumably spend the 2024 season developing under offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and preparing for a 2025 QB competition with Gunner Stockton, Ryan Puglisi, and 2025 commit Ryan Montgomery.

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