QB Jaden Rashada sues Florida coach Billy Napier, booster over NIL ‘false promises’

Jaden Rashada, recruited as a quarterback for the University of Florida, is suing the school’s head football coach, an administrator and a top donor in federal court, alleging he was offered a nearly $14 million payday with the Gators in a deal they never meant to honor.

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The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, accuses prominent Florida booster Hugh Hathcock of conspiring with Gators coach Billy Napier and former director of player engagement Marcus Castro-Walker to offer Rashada a four-year, $13.85 million contract with the Gator Collective, a now-defunct organization that arranged name, image and likeness (NIL) deals for Florida athletes, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the suit, Rashada is claiming that he was given “fraudulent assurances” of a NIL contract from Florida, resulting in the loss of chances to pursue other opportunities when the deal with the Gators fell through. The suit claims fraudulent misrepresentation and inducement, aiding and abetting fraud, civil conspiracy to commit fraud, negligent misrepresentations, tortious inference with a business relationship or contract and aiding and abetting tortious interference and vicarious liability, according to The Associated Press.

Rashada initially committed to the University of Miami in June 2022, getting a $9.5 million NIL endorsement deal with a Hurricanes booster, according to The Athletic.

Rashada’s suit alleges that during his official visit to Gainesville in June 2022, Rashada spoke with Hathcock, a school booster who has given millions to Florida. Hathcock told Rashada, according to the filing, that he would “make happen” whatever Rashada needed to pick Florida.

On Nov. 10, 2022, despite misgivings, the suit claims, Rashada announced he would de-commit from Miami and would be going to Florida instead. According to the lawsuit, Hathcock was to pay Rashada $500,000 by Dec. 5. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in November 2022, Hathcock said he never dealt directly with Rashada.

However, by early December, Hathcock had decided he would not pay the $500,000, the suit claims. On Dec. 6, the Gator Collective sent Rashada a letter purporting to terminate the $13.85 million NIL contract because they could not secure financial backing for it.

The suit goes on to say that “Castro-Walker (initially) and Coach Napier (later) made extraordinary efforts to persuade Jaden that they would make good on the promised NIL compensation despite the termination of the Gator Collective’s contract.”

December 21, 2022, was signing day for 2023 NCAA Division I football early-commitment students and Rashada had not yet signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Florida, because, the suit says, he had received no money from Florida.

However, he decided to sign the letter of intent on that day after Napier called his father and told him his son would receive $1 million from Hathcock once he signed.

On Jan.18, 2023, Rashada withdrew his letter of intent to play for UF and enrolled at Arizona State University, where he started the first two games of the season for the Sun Devils. An injury kept him out for most of the season. In three games, he was 44-of-82 for 485 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions, according to ESPN.

According to the suit, Rashada “neither sought nor was promised any type of NIL commitment from Arizona State.” Last month Rashada entered the college football transfer portal and selected the University of Georgia as the school he would attend beginning in the 2024-2025 school year.

In 2021, the NCAA announced it would allow athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, establishing rules as to how college athletes can receive compensation from a brand through marketing and/or promotional endeavors.

Florida had been under NCAA investigation since last June regarding Rashada’s recruitment. The NCAA asked the school not to conduct its own investigation and said it would notify the institution “soon regarding the projected timeline of the investigation,” according to the AP.

In March, the NCAA halted investigations into booster-backed collectives or other third parties making NIL compensation deals with Division I athletes following lawsuits. The decision came after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Tennessee and Virginia.

“We do not comment on ongoing litigation, and neither the University Athletic Association nor the University are named in the complaint. The UAA will provide for Coach Napier’s personal counsel, and we will direct all questions to those representatives,” spokesperson Steve McClain said.

Rashada is believed to be the first person to file a lawsuit of this kind, the Journal reported. The suit seeks damages “exceed(ing) the sum or value of $10 million.”

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