The NCAA is investigating the University of Florida's failed name, image and likeness-backed recruitment of ASU sophomore quarterback Jaden Rashada.
UF president Ben Sasse was informed via a notice of inquiry on June 9, 2023, that the NCAA enforcement staff would investigate the football program. Steve McClain, the Florida senior associate athletics director, addressed the investigation in a statement provided to ESPN once news broke this January.
"We have been and will continue to cooperate with the NCAA," McClain said in the statement. "We hold ourselves to high standards of excellence and integrity on and off the field. Because we follow NCAA policies about maintaining confidentiality, we are unable to offer additional comments."
The fiasco started when Rashada committed to Miami with a $9.5 million NIL deal before flipping to Florida in November 2022. His in-state move was motivated by a $13.85 million contract crafted by the Gator Collective, Florida’s unaffiliated NIL group.
Rashada’s deal would be spread across four years and require him to meet minor NIL commitments like signing autographs and posting to social media.
The NIL deal was the largest contract ever offered to a college player at the time.
Yet he never received a single dime from the collective, which has since been acquired by Florida Victorious. Funding for the contract fell through as key financial backers weren't told that Rashada’s deal had skyrocketed from $5 million to $13.8 million. The NIL contract was terminated despite both sides previously signing an agreement.
The deal’s termination cut Rashada’s time in Gainesville short. He initially signed with the Gators on Dec. 21, 2022, but was released from his letter of intent on Jan. 21, 2023. Less than two weeks later, he signed with ASU on National Signing Day.
Florida's alleged recruiting violations pertain to the NCAA's rules against inducements. In a statement released by the NCAA National Office, the Association outlined that universities "may not use NIL transactions to compensate student-athletes for athletics participation or achievement or as an improper inducement."
Technically, UF didn’t offer Rashada $13.8 million; the third-party Gator Collective did. However, the NCAA states that entities aligned with an institution like Florida are seen as an extension of the university and are under the same scrutiny, putting the Gators' football program and NIL ventures in jeopardy.
Now, Florida is caught in a contentious investigation that may damage its football program for years. A ruling against the university could impose a costly probation that would affect its recruiting and NIL abilities for years.
Florida’s NIL endeavors are already changing. On Feb. 1, the university dismissed Director of Player Engagement and NIL Marcus Castro-Walker after the investigation came to light. Castro-Walker was the Gators' NIL point man and a key figure highlighted in the NCAA's ongoing investigation.
Florida is picking up the pieces from Rashada's debacle and the Gator Collective's dissolution with the creation of Florida Victorious. The new NIL organization was originally the Florida Achievement Support Trust but has since rebranded and expanded its operations, according to NPR. Founder of the Gator Collective, Eddie Rojas, said that his group was "passing the baton" to Florida Victorious.
Florida is getting back on track, but it comes at a time of heightened scrutiny. Few people associated with the school have spoken out except for a few athletics officials. Leading a program mired in controversy, Florida head coach Billy Napier skirted around the ruling when he spoke to the media on Wednesday.
"You guys know that we can’t speak specifically," Billy Napier said. "We made a statement there. We'll refer to that."
The NCAA’' investigation puts Florida and Napier's program in the crosshairs, not Rashada. The NCAA's June letter to Sasse redacted the names of investigators and did not include the ASU quarterback anywhere.
The ASU quarterback may be able to sue Florida for the contract’s termination, but there’s no indication that he’ll pursue legal action yet.
Edited by Walker Smith, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.