Former Florida signee Jaden Rashada sues coach Billy Napier and others over failed $14M NIL deal

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Former Florida recruit and current Georgia quarterback Jaden Rashada is suing Gators coach Billy Napier and the program’s top booster over a failed name, image and likeness deal worth nearly $14 million.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Pensacola accuses Napier and booster and automotive technology businessman Hugh Hathcock of fraudulent misrepresentation and inducement, aiding and abetting fraud, civil conspiracy to commit fraud, negligent misrepresentations, tortious inference with a business relationship or contract, aiding and abetting tortious interference and vicarious liability. The complaint seeks a jury trial and damages of at least $10 million.

“Sadly, this type of fraud is becoming more commonplace in the Wild West that is today’s college NIL landscape,” said attorney Rusty Hardin, who is representing Rashada. “Wealthy alumni, consumed by their schools’ athletic programs, are taking advantage of young people by offering them life-changing sums of money, only to renege on their commitments.

“As the first scholar-athlete to take a stand against this egregious behavior, Jaden seeks to hold these defendants accountable for their actions and to expose their as-yet unchecked abuse of power.”

The lawsuit does not allege breach of contract, a notable omission that likely means the NIL deal could have been terminated by either party at any point and without penalty.

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

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.”

But the NCAA in March 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. The antitrust suit challenged NCAA rules against recruiting inducements, saying they inhibit athletes’ ability to cash in on their celebrity and fame.

The Gators may have thought they were off the hook. But Rashada’s lawsuit, at the very least, puts them back in the spotlight.

Rashada, who threw for 5,275 yards and 59 touchdowns at Pittsburg (California) High School, initially agreed to play for Miami in the fall of 2022. According to the lawsuit, the Hurricanes promised Rashada a $9.5 million NIL deal.

Napier and Hathcock lured Rashada away from Miami with a $13.85 million NIL deal that violated NCAA bylaws, the suit said. The lawsuit says Napier vouched for the collective and said Rashada would receive $1 million on signing day.

“But before Rashada could arrive on Florida's campus, the ... contract was terminated — suddenly and without warning,” according to the suit.

The 37-page complaint says Rashada “tolerated” several delays in getting paid before ultimately being left with “no faith in the UF football team's leadership and the individuals who had constantly lied to him.”

Rashada was granted his release a month after his NIL deal fell through. He later signed with his father’s alma mater, Arizona State. He spent one season in Tempe before landing at Florida’s biggest rival, Georgia.

Rashada's deal was with the Gator Collective, an independent fundraising group that was loosely tied to the university and paid student-athletes for use of their NIL. The Gator Collective has since been disbanded.

Other defendants include Marcus Castro-Walker, the school's former director of player engagement and NIL who now works for the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders, and Velocity Automotive Solutions LLC, which is owned by Hathcock and was slated to provide most of the funding for Rashada's deal.

The complaint quotes several text messages between Rashada's agents and Gator Collectives representatives. But it provides none from Napier.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll

05/21/2024 20:32 -0400

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