Jaden Rashada sues Florida booster, Billy Napier, former Gators staff over unpaid NIL contract

By OnlyGators.com Staff
May 21, 2024
Jaden Rashada sues Florida booster, Billy Napier, former Gators staff over unpaid NIL contract

Image Credit: ESPN

In a long-expected move, former Florida Gators signee Jaden Rashada has filed a lawsuit against a major booster, head coach Billy Napier and other staff previously related to the program. The claim from Rashada, filed in federal court, is that the now-Georgia quarterback was defrauded out of $13.85 million after agreeing to an NIL deal with Florida that was rescinded before he signed a National Letter of Intent with the program on Dec. 21, 2022.

The lawsuit is wide ranging with a clear intention to extract as much money as possible from those named despite claims within the document that the goal is to hold the system at large accountable. Despite this, the University of Florida itself is not named as a defendant, many of the claims within the lawsuit do not appear to have tangible proof behind them, and Napier is most notably named in reference to a verbal conversation the parties had as Rashada was deciding whether to sign with the Gators.

“It is common for a plaintiff’s attorney to include a notable name or multi-million dollar company in a lawsuit in hopes of making headlines and subsequently reaching a quick settlement,” a prominent Tampa, Florida, based trial attorney who reviewed the Rashada lawsuit told OnlyGators.com under the condition of anonymity. “It’s likely neither side wants this to go to discovery, though the document is relatively thin — particularly when it comes to Napier’s involvement — for such a [law]suit, especially of this amount.”

Rashada’s side states that he committed to Miami after agreeing to a $9.5 million NIL deal. Florida allegedly came back with an $11 million offer, but when that did not sway Rashada, boosters — notably mega-donor Hugh Hathcock — eventually increased it to $13.85 million. The base-level claim of the lawsuit is that Hathcock, Napier and other Gators staff conspired from the beginning to get Rashada to sign with the university despite having no initial intention of ever fulfilling the terms of the NIL deal.

This despite Napier clearly wanting Rashada on his roster. Furthermore, Rashada’s NIL deal was neither with the university, Hathcock nor Napier but rather the Gator Collective.

Ultimately, Rashada was released from his NLI by Florida, and he transferred to Arizona State. He played three games for the Sun Devils last season and has since transferred to Georgia; Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart reportedly “signed off” on this lawsuit, aware that a player he was recruiting was planning to sue his rival.

Among the claims and allegations made by Rashada from 2022 in the lawsuit:

  • June-November: Hathcock promised Rashada an NIL deal during visit, including a possible job for his father. The deal would have been funded by himself directly, his company Velocity Automotive and the high-end NIL collective Gator Guard. Before Rashada committed to UF, Hathcock changed his mind and decided to fund the deal exclusively through contributions to the Gator Collective as he claimed that he planned to sell his company.
  • Dec. 6: One month after Rashada signed the NIL deal and one day after an initial $500,000 payment was due, the Gator Collective sought to terminate the contract weeks before National Signing Day. (Not in the lawsuit: ESPN reports that there was a contractual provision allowing for termination with cause but no cause was outlined. Others believe the contract had a termination clause that did not require cause.) Napier and Castro-Walker promised that Hathcock and the Gator Guard would honor the contract.
  • Dec. 9: Hathcock wired Rashada $150,000 to pay back Miami booster John Ruiz for an unfulfilled NIL agreement in hopes of avoiding litigation. (It has previously been denied by Ruiz that such a deal was in place.)
  • Dec. 19: Rashada had not received a new contract to sign the day before National Signing Day, and figures being discussed were lower than initially agreed upon. (Not in the lawsuit: ESPN reports the new offer was less than half of the original.)
  • Dec. 20: Former Florida director of player engagement and NIL Marcus Castro-Walker “threatened” that Napier would “walk away” from Rashada if he did not sign with the Gators despite not having the updated NIL contract to sign.
  • Dec. 20: Napier told Rashada’s father all parties were good to fund a “partial payment” of $1 million upon Rashada signing his NLI. That was never received.

Rashada was released from his NLI on Jan. 18, 2023, less than one month after he signed with Florida. It is not stated that he ever signed a new NIL deal with the Gators, though his prior NIL contract was terminated prior to him signing with UF — yet he did so anyway. The lawsuit claims he left Florida due to lack of trust, not NIL payments.

“Once Jaden committed to UF, rather than make Jaden ‘rich’ as promised, these people — with Hathcock leading the charge — changed their tune and went back on their word. The amount of UF-affiliated NIL money available for Jaden decreased drastically,” the lawsuit reads.

Whether Rashada will win his lawsuit will be up to attorneys and the courts. The document does, however, detail what would be clear violations of constantly changing NCAA rules that are presently unenforceable given the Wild, Wild, West aspect of NIL in college sports these days.

Neither boosters nor schools are allowed to induce player decisions via promises of NIL, though the practice of doing so has been commonplace at most major universities since the introduction of NIL. Florida, Florida State, Tennessee, Virginia and other programs are under NCAA investigation for such alleged violations, though the association is presently unable to move forward due to an injunction granted by a federal judge in February that prevents the NCAA from punishing anyone for NIL negotiations or inducements.

In other terms, the NCAA presently has no avenue to enforce the thin NIL rules that presently exist. Furthermore, NIL laws vary from state to state and remain constantly changing. This is why the association has long sought Congressional intervention to create federal NIL legislation, though due to more pressing national issues and the forthcoming election cycle, Congress has yet to make NIL for college athletes a priority.

The Gators have moved on from Castro-Walker as part of the program and the Gator Collective as their NIL wing. Hathcock continues to donate to Florida and its athletic interests.

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