The arrival of name, image, and likeness (NIL) agreements has transformed college athletics, offering student-athletes unprecedented opportunities to profit from their personal brands.  Yet, the case of Jaden Rashada, a promising quarterback, is a cautionary tale.

When Rashada entered the 2023 college recruitment season, the NCAA had recently adopted rules allowing compensation to student-athletes for using their NIL.  The NIL era opened the door to forming “collectives” — groups of donors who agreed to fund NIL contracts with athletes in exchange for the athletes’ de facto commitment to a particular university.  The collectives play a huge role in recruitment and facilitating the NIL deals.  NIL hinges on the relationship between a university’s sports program and its alumni, boosters, and these collectives.

 Rashada initially committed to the University of Miami, backed by a substantial $9.5 million NIL deal.  He later changed his commitment to the University of Florida (UF), lured by an even more lucrative promise of $13.85 million.  According to a lawsuit filed by Rashada in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, this offer was part of a fraudulent scheme orchestrated by UF head coach Billy Napier, former director of player engagement Marcus Castro-Walker, and booster Hugh Hathcock to induce him to give up his Miami deal.

 According to the complaint, Hathcock offered to pay Rashada $5.35 million, including a $500,000 signing bonus, through Hathcock’s company Velocity Automotive.  The remainder of the $13.85 million would be paid through Hathcock’s NIL collective, Gator Guard.  Rashada alleges in his Complaint that these promises were deceitful and intended to persuade him to abandon Miami and sign a$13.85 million NIL deal with the Gator Collective.  Once he committed to UF, rather than make Rashada rich as promised, the defendants allegedly changed their tune. The amount of UF-affiliated NIL money available decreased significantly when Hathcock decided to sell his business.  Thus, Rashada alleges that the defendants continued to manipulate him until he signed a letter of intent with UF that further deprived him of any other possible NIL opportunities.  Rashada contends that the defendants attempted to strong-arm him into a NIL contract worth a fraction of what they promised after inducing Rashada through false promises to forgo NIL deals from other programs — specifically, the $9.5 million from Miami.

As the complaint notes, “[U]nethical and illegal tactics like this are more and more commonplace in the Wild West that is today’s college football landscape.  As the first scholar-athlete to take a stand against such egregious behavior by adults who should know better, Jaden seeks to hold Defendants accountable for their actions and to expose the unchecked abuse of power that they shamelessly wielded.”

            Rashada’s lawsuit includes serious allegations:

  1. Fraudulent Misrepresentation and Inducement/Aiding and Abetting Fraud: Rashada claims that the defendants knowingly made false promises to lure him to UF. The key elements of this claim involve proving the defendants intentionally deceived Rashada and he relied on these misrepresentations to his detriment.
  • Civil Conspiracy to Commit Fraud: These claims assert the defendants worked together to defraud Rashada. To succeed, Rashada must demonstrate there was a coordinated effort to deceive him and the defendants had a mutual understanding to commit the fraudulent acts.
  • Negligent Misrepresentation: This claim involves the assertion that the defendants made false statements without due care for their truthfulness, leading Rashada to make decisions based on inaccurate information.
  • Tortious Interference/Aiding and Abetting Tortious Interference: Rashada contends that the defendants intentionally interfered with his contractual relationship with Miami, causing him financial harm.

The defendants will likely assert numerous defenses, primarily that there was no enforceable contract, as NIL agreements often lack formal documentation and unambiguous terms. This potential defense hinges on the nuances of contract law, particularly the requirement for mutual assent and consideration.  However, in the state of Florida, oral contracts are enforceable.

The involvement of Rashada’s agents in the negotiations could also be used to argue that Rashada was adequately represented and not misled or exploited.  The complaint portrays Rashada as an individual taken advantage of by a head coach and a collective.  However, there is an argument that sophisticated agents and attorneys represented and adequately advised him before he chose UF.

Rashada’s lawsuit highlights the broader legal and regulatory challenges in the NIL landscape.  A lack of uniform regulations and enforcement mechanisms hinders the current environment.  There is a legitimate need for more precise guidelines for NIL agreements to protect student-athletes.  As this case progresses, it has the potential to set essential precedents and potentially drive legislative and regulatory changes to ensure the integrity of NIL practices.

Please contact a Jackson Lewis attorney with any questions.