Ex-Florida QB Jaden Rashada Sues Coach Billy Napier, Others After Failed NIL Deal

University of Georgia Quarterback Jaden Rashada has filed a lawsuit against University of Florida head football coach Billy Napier and others after a collapsed $13.85 million name, image, and likeness deal from January 2023.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are Napier, prominent UF booster Hugh Hathcock and his company Velocity Automotive, and former director of player engagement and NIL Marcus Castro-Walker. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on Tuesday morning.

The lawsuit claims that Rashada, a former Gators recruit, was defrauded by the four defendants for “falsely promising” a $13.85 million NIL deal that they never had any intention of fulfilling. The lawsuit also claims the group committed tortious interference with Rashada’s $9.5 million NIL deal with a University of Miami collective and business relationships at UM as they knew they could not fulfill their promise, resulting in financial loss for Rashada.

“It’s a classic con game on a 19-year-old,” Rashada’s attorney Rusty Hardin told ESPN. “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.”

One allegation from the lawsuit states that Napier promised Rashada’s father a “partial payment” of $1 million less than an hour before the recruit would sign his National Letter of Intent. The money was never paid out and the boosters did not fulfill the deal, according to the lawsuit.

This is the first known case of a player suing a coach or booster due to problems with an NIL deal. Rashada transferred to UGA in late April and the lawsuit was approved by head coach Kirby Smart before filing, according to On3. The complaint states the “unethical and illegal tactics” taken by the defendants are “more and more commonplace in the Wild West that is today’s college football landscape.”

The Commitment Flip

During an official visit in early June 2022, Hathcock told the player he could get “whatever needed” to be done for him to join the Gators, according to the lawsuit. A potential job for Rashada’s father Harlen was also mentioned by Hathcock during that visit.

Hathcock offered Rashada an “approximately $11 million UF-affiliated NIL deal” later in the summer to be partially funded through Hathcock’s company and his NIL collective, the Gator Guard, according to the suit. Rashada had already committed to UM and agreed to a $9.5 million NIL deal when he received this offer from Hathcock.

Castro-Walker reached out to Rashada’s agents in Oct. 2022 to re-engage in talks to bring the recruit to UF. He sent text messages to the agents saying “We need to lock down Jaden!” and “[UF would] want [Jaden] to flip this week,” according to the lawsuit. A deal for $13.85 million over four years was allegedly agreed to in early November.

Through his company, Hathcock was going to pay $5.35 million of the $13.85 million of the deal with the rest coming from the Gator Guard. The lawsuit says a $500,000 signing bonus through the booster’s company was included.

When Rashada flipped his commitment to UF on Nov. 10, the booster decided not to use his collective or company to fulfill the payments. Instead, Hathcock and Castro-Walker shifted towards using the Gator Collective to fund the payments, the lawsuit states.

National Signing Day Fiasco and Fallout

Rashada was set to receive the signing bonus on Dec. 5, still weeks away from National Signing Day. He never received the bonus that Hathcock promised him. In a turn of events, The Gator Collective sent Rashada a letter stating that the contract was terminated only one day later, according to the lawsuit.

After not receiving a payment by National Signing Day on Dec. 21, Rashada delayed signing his National Letter of Intent to play for UF. Head coach Billy Napier then called Rashada and his father to vouch for the alumni on the promise of a $1 million payment if Rashada signed that day, which he eventually did.

“Defendant Castro-Walker leveraged the coach’s promise that Napier would ‘get it done’ and threatened – on National Signing Day – that, if Jaden did not sign a national letter of intent with UF, Coach Napier might walk away from Jaden entirely,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit states that the only payment made to Rashada from Hathcock was $150,000 to avoid possible litigation with Ruiz. The alleged $500,000 signing bonus and the $1 million for signing on National Signing Day were never wired to the recruit.

While other early enrollees in the recruiting class showed up for move-in day on Jan. 10, 2023, Rashada was nowhere to be found. The cracks in the relationship between the athlete and the program had finally reached a breaking point.

Rashada withdrew his National Letter of Intent to play for UF on Jan. 18. He ended up attending Arizona State University, his father’s alma mater, for his freshman season before transferring to the UGA for the 2024 season. The lawsuit says that neither of these moves were motivated by NIL money as “he had learned his lesson.”

What Comes Next

The University of Florida has been under investigation by the NCAA for the Rashada recruiting situation since June 9, 2023. The Gator Collective was disbanded following the deal’s breakdown. Castro-Walker is no longer with the football team, and Hathcock is not participating in NIL projects.

“We do not comment on ongoing litigation, and neither the University Athletic Association nor the University are named in the complaint,” Florida athletic department spokesman Steve McClain told On3. “The UAA will provide for Coach Napier’s personal counsel, and we will direct all questions to those representatives.”

NIL has completely changed the landscape of college sports due to its ever-changing nature and uncertainty regarding enforcement. Inducement of recruits via NIL deals and booster involvement in recruiting is against NCAA rules. However, following an injunction granted by a federal judge in Tennessee, the NCAA is not allowed to punish those involved with NIL inducement during recruiting.

The NIL era has been accompanied by uncertainty, murky guidelines, and the inability of the NCAA to take action. While Rashada was the first college athlete to file a lawsuit like this, he will likely not be the last. The Florida State Seminoles were the first team to be punished by the NCAA for NIL inducement, but they have petitioned to have the penalties rescinded following recent rulings.

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