A $13.85 Million NIL Deal Gone Wrong: Jaden Rashada Sues University of Florida

June 25, 2024

On May 21st, Jaden Rashada, a former top college football prospect, filed a lawsuit against prominent figures associated with the University of Florida (UF) football program, including UF coach Billy Napier, because of a failed name, image, and likeness (NIL) deal. The Complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleges fraudulent inducement, civil conspiracy, tortious interference, and other claims related to the recruitment of Rashada to UF. With perhaps the most notable NIL-lawsuit to date, Rashada sues UF as a member of the University of Georgia’s football team, which should make Saturdays in the fall that much more interesting in the SEC.

The Recruitment and NIL Agreement

In June 2022, Rashada initially committed to the University of Miami (UM) with a substantial $9.5 million NIL agreement. However, Rashada was lured away with a more lucrative NIL deal of $13.85 million, and ultimately changed his commitment to UF in November 2022. Per the Complaint, Rashada was due an initial $500,000 signing bonus less than a month after he signed the NIL agreement, with the remaining $13.35 million to follow.

Allegations of Fraudulent Inducement

As the lawsuit entails, UF, its employees, NIL collective, and boosters engaged in a coordinated effort to mislead Rashada into believing he would receive the $13.85 million NIL deal if he switched his commitment from UM to UF. Rashada was allegedly promised a $500,000 signing bonus, with the remaining millions to follow, but a day after the $500,000 signing bonus was due, UF’s NIL collective, the Gator Collective, sent a termination notice to Rashada, terminating the agreement.

Yet still, UF and its boosters continued to ensure Rashada that millions in NIL money would be paid if Rashada signed with UF. Rashada later signed with UF on December 21, 2022, relying on the promises made, according to the Complaint. But, after a prominent UF booster failed to wire $1,000,000 to Rashada, Rashada asked for his release from his letter of intent with UF, which UF granted. Rashada ultimately played for Arizona State during the 2023 season and recently transferred to Georgia.

Legal Claims and Financial Losses

While Rashada did not bring a breach of contract claim, which may signal a right of termination, the alleged-fraudulent intent to coerce a student-athlete to leave $9.5 million on the table is what is at issue with the lawsuit.  Per the Complaint, the defendants’ actions caused Rashada not only to lose out on the $13.85 million NIL deal with UF but also the initial $9.5 million NIL deal with UM as well as other potential lucrative NIL opportunities. Rashada is seeking compensation for these financial losses in addition to punitive damages to the extent any of the defendants acted with malice.

Broader Implications for the NIL System

More broadly, Rashada’s lawsuit underscores the importance of protecting the student-athletes rights during the college selection and NIL process. The NIL system, as it currently operates, incentivizes schools and boosters to take advantage of impressionable and naive student-athletes who are not to treated as employees, despite being paid via NIL to produce record-breaking revenues for their schools.

In what may be the initial chain reaction surrounding NIL lawsuits, Rashada’s claims are the first of its kind against a booster and active head coach.

Need for Transparency and Regulation

NIL came about to compensate student-athletes in a system that continuously has taken advantage of their athletic prowess. However, Rashada’s case exemplifies the potential abuse and known pitfalls within the NIL system, including lack of transparency, accountability, and regulations.

While Rashada may be on the forefront of seeking justice for botched NIL deals; his experiences are not unique. To safeguard against similar acts, NIL contracts and those funding the NIL deals should be scrutinized and vetted.

If you are in need of a NIL review or seek guidance in the process, please reach out to KJK attorneys Kyle D. Stroup (KDS@kjk.com; 330.978.6549) or TJ Hunt (TJH@kjk.com; 440.666.5734).