College football star sues University of Florida football program over $13.85m sponsorship deal

Top college football quarterback Jaden Rashada sued individuals associated with his failed recruitment to the University of Florida, claiming the football powerhouse’s coach, staff, and a top booster caused him to miss out on a $13.85m deal for the use of his name, image, and likeness (NIL).

The suit marks the first time a college athlete has sued a coach or booster over a NIL deal, according to ESPN, since such arrangements became legal in 2021.

Mr Rashada’s lawsuit, filed in Florida federal court on Tuesday, claims that the effort is “emblematic of the abuses running rampant in the world of big-time college football.”

In the suit, the quarterback, claims that Florida coach Billy Napier, since-fired UF football staffer Marcus Castro-Walker, and a prominent Florida football booster named Hugh Hathcock worked in concert during negotiations in which Mr Rashada ultimately was unable to secure an allegedly promised $13.85m NIL deal.

The Independent has contacted the UF football program, as well as Mr Hathcock and Mr Castro-Walker, for comment.

The lawsuit details a dizzying back-and-forth series of negotiations surrounding Mr Rashada, who initially commited to play for the University of Miami in June of 2022.

After the announcement, according to the suit, a wealthy Florida businessman and UF booster named Hugh Hathcock began courting Mr Rashada, verbally offering an $11m NIL deal, a figure allegedly increased to nearly $14m by October.

The following month, Mr Rashada announced he intended to sign for Florida instead.

Under the initial terms of the deal, according to the suit, Mr Rashada would receive $5.35m from Mr Hathcock, including a $500,000 signing bonus via Mr Hathcock’s business Velocity Automotive, and the remainder via Gator Guard, the businessman’s NIL collective.

Jaden Rashada #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils throws a pass during warmups before their game against the Utah Utes at Rice Eccles Stadium on November 4, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah (Getty Images)
Jaden Rashada #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils throws a pass during warmups before their game against the Utah Utes at Rice Eccles Stadium on November 4, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah (Getty Images)

However, according to the suit, as negotiations wore on, Mr Hathcock came to object to using his company to fund the deal, and instead worked with Mr Castro-Walker, the UF employee, on a plan to transfer the funds through Gator Collective, another NIL group with separate leadership, which has since gone defunct.

On 6 December, per the suit, the Gator collective group informed Mr Rashada it would terminate the NIL agreement.

Still, those associated with the recruiting effort allegedly continued to promise the young quarterback the deal would come through.

After the termination, Mr Castro-Walker and Mr Napier, the Florida coach, allegedly told the recruit they would “make good” on the original deal, with the former telling the QB’s agent that Mr Hathcock and his Gator Guard group would “personally guarantee” the money.

As a 21 December early signing deadline approached, the parties reportedly still hadn’t reached a firm deal, and Mr Rashada hadn’t officially signed with Florida.

This allegedly prompted both Mr Castro-Walker and the Florida coach to offer reassurances that the signing bonus would come through.

The coach also allegedly contacted the recruit’s father and said Mr Hathcock was ready to wire the quarterback $1m if he signed with UF on national signing day.

Following this alleged promise, Mr Rashada officially signed with Florida.

However, the massive NIL deal the recruit believed would follow didn’t materialize, and the suit alleges “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 suit adds.

The decision to go with Florida allegedly cost the recruit a nearly $10m NIL deal with Miami, his original pick.

The suit seeks that same amount or more in damages and accuses the parties of fraud, negligence, and tortious interference.

Senior Associate Athletics Director for UF, Steve McClain, told The Independent: “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.”

NIL deals can’t be used to induce a recruit into signing with a school, according to NCAA rules, and, at the time of the alleged conduct at issue in the suit, boosters and NIL collectives weren’t allowed to discuss the terms of deals with potential recruits.

Since late February, however, the NCAA has been prohibited from enforcing NIL-related rule violations, following a preliminary injunction in a Tennessee federal case.

The NCAA previously launched an investigation into the quarterback’s recruitment, though has since paused the inquiry, The Athletic reports.

By January of 2023, the quarterback was released from his Florida letter of intent, and he instead opted to play for Arizona State.

He’s now headed back to the South to play for the University of Georgia, one of Florida’s key rivals.