The NCAA opened an official investigation into the University of Florida’s football team via a Notice of Inquiry to UF president Ben Sasse on June 9, 2023. Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times first reported on the investigation on January 19, 2024.
Though the nature of the investigation at the time was unclear due to multiple redactions in the four-page notice, speculations reported that the investigation was regarding the now-failed recruitment of 2023 five-star quarterback Jaden Rashada.
Rashada signed his National Letter of Intent with the Gators in December 2023, with head Coach Billy Napier expressing his excitement after delaying his appearance in a press conference on National Signing Day by over an hour with Rashada’s name added to the list of signees at the last minute.
Rashada, who was previously committed to the University of Miami with a $9.8 million NIL deal, reportedly received a name, image, and likeness offer in November 2023 from the Gator Collective to sign with UF for nearly $13.8 million. The Athletic reported that Eddie Rojas, CEO of the Gator Collective, later sent a letter to Rashada in December terminating the $13.8 million contract, nearly one month after Rashada agreed to the contract.
According to Mark Long of The Associated Press, the contract with the Gator Collective was terminated after funding for the contract fell through, as not all of the financial backers of the contract were aware that the deal had increased from $5 million over four years to $13 million.
With the potential for litigation based upon whether or not the contract was binding, an anonymous program source with knowledge of the situation reported that Rashada was offered a lesser deal, still over seven figures, to stay at UF.
As of January 17, 2024, Rashada asked to be released from his letter of intent from Florida, the hefty contract was rescinded, and Rashada signed with Arizona State University.
Florida athletics spokesperson Steve McClain spoke on the university’s compliance with the NCAA during the investigation, claiming, “We hold ourselves to the highest standards of excellence and integrity on and off the field. Because we follow NCAA policies about maintaining confidentiality we are unable to offer additional comments.”
The NCAA has begun cracking down on NIL-related rules about recruiting “inducements.” Florida State University fans have recently experienced the ramifications of these strict enforcements after its football program received Level II sanctions not long ago. Florida State’s football program is facing a two-year probation in addition to other sanctions due to a football staff member “facilitating” the meeting between a prospective player and an NIL collective.
With two big hits to the University of Florida and Florida State only a few weeks apart, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis commented on social media, writing, “Pretty obvious the NCAA and Charlie Baker have it out for teams in the Sunshine State. They let NIL run wild and now they desperately want to put the cat back in the bag.”
NCAA rules were set to establish boundaries regarding collectives’ interactions with potential student athletes (PSAs) and their limits on inducing a player to attend their university through NIL money. A few of these rules read as follows:
“A booster or collection of boosters is not permitted to engage in recruiting activities, including recruiting conversations. When a booster’s interaction with a PSA (potential student-athlete) includes encouraging the PSA to attend an institution, NCAA rules have been violated.”
“NIL compensation may not be contingent upon enrollment at a particular school. In addition, NIL compensation may not be contingent upon residency in a certain location simply to circumvent this standard.”
In reality, the majority of major schools and sports programs are participating in inducing, facilitating, and interacting with NIL deals. But as the NCAA continues to crack down and enforce limitations on these deals and institution involvement, institutions such as Florida State and UF will be among the first to experience the severity of NIL-related NCAA sanctions.
The University of Florida not only mourns the decommitment of five-star quarterback Jaden Rashada, but will continue to fidget as they wait through the continued investigation from the NCAA and face the possibility of legal action from the quarterback.