In a first of its kind, college football star sues over $14 million in broken promises on image rights deal

BY Preta Peace Namasaba May 24, 2024 2:27 PM EDT

College football star Jaden Rashada has sued the University of Florida’s coach and a top booster over a failed $13.85 million name, image, and likeness (NIL) deal. The quarterback claims he was offered millions of dollars to commit to the school but the promises were never fulfilled. The lawsuit marks the first time a college athlete has sued a coach or booster over a NIL deal since such arrangements became legal in 2021.

“Sadly, this type of fraud is becoming more commonplace in the Wild West that is today’s college NIL landscape. 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,” said attorney Rusty Hardin, who is representing Rashada.

Rashada had initially committed to the University of Miami, which offered him a $9.5 million NIL package in June 2022. The lawsuit alleges that following the announcement, football staffer Marcus Castro-Walker and Florida businessman Hugh Hathcock verbally offered him a $11 million NIL deal. The figure increased to nearly $14 million by October of the same year and Rashada announced he intended to sign for Florida instead. According to the suit, the initial terms of the deal stated that Rashada would receive $5.35 million from Hathcock, including a $500,000 signing bonus via Hathcock’s Velocity Automotive firm, and the remainder was expected to come through Gator Guard, the businessman’s NIL collective.

As negotiations continued, Hathcock began to object to using his company to fund the deal. He instead worked with Castro-Walker to transfer the funds through the now-defunct Gator Collective, another NIL group with separate leadership. The suit states that on 6 December 2022, the Gator Collective group informed Rashada it would terminate the NIL agreement. After the termination, Castro-Walker and Florida coach Billy Napier assured the quarterback and his agent that they would fulfill the original deal.

The parties had not yet reached a firm deal, and Rashada had not officially signed with Florida as the early signing deadline approached. This led Castro-Walker and Napier to offer reassurances that the signing bonus would come through. The coach also allegedly contacted Rashada’s father and said that Hathcock was ready to wire the recruit $1 million if he signed with Florida on national signing day. Following this promise, Rashada officially signed with Florida.

However, the promised NIL deal never materialized. The suit states that the amount of UF-affiliated NIL money available for Rashada decreased drastically. The quarterback was released from his Florida letter of intent in January 2023 and opted to play for Arizona State instead. He is now headed to play for the University of Georgia, one of Florida’s key rivals. Rashada is suing on counts of fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent inducement, aiding and abetting fraud, civil conspiracy to commit fraud, negligent misrepresentations, tortious interference, aiding and abetting tortious interference, and vicarious liability.

According to NCAA rules, NIL deals can not be used to induce a recruit into signing with a school. The NCAA has however been prohibited from enforcing NIL-related rule violations, following a preliminary injunction in a Tennessee federal case. An investigation into Rashada’s recruitment had been launched by the NCAA but has since been paused the inquiry.

“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,” Florida athletic department spokesman Steve McClain said about Rashada’s lawsuit.