The Florida portion of the Jaden Rashada saga has come to an end when the school officially released him from his letter of intent, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to Sports Illustrated after On3 Sports reported Friday morning.
What remains in Gainesville is the most messy name, image and likeness fiasco in the 18-month history of that collegiate sports era. Something like this always had to happen at some point. It will almost certainly happen again, too, as recruitment never stops and a barely regulated market rolls on with varied answers as to who and how the genie gets put back in the bottle.
This is the purest example of a young market going through growing pains. But put that cold business talk aside for a second, and remember that the tragedy is that despite an agreement originally signed with one of Florida’s third-party collectives, the Gator Collective, Rashada received at most “a very small amount,” if any anything from his four-year deal, priced at between $13 million and $14 million to attend Florida in November. It’s doubtful he’ll get anywhere near that much from his new school given that, according to industry experts On3 spoke to, the common rate for a quarterback is around $750,000 a year and only exceeds $1 on certain occasions million US dollars. And yet, Rashada was to be paid around $3.25 million per year in tranches over the life of the deal.
The blame for this begins with the NCAA, which for over a century passed the buck on athlete compensation, allowing payments to flourish under the table. The organization outsourced player payments to a third party, a path of least resistance. A burgeoning industry of collectives has emerged, with donors funding payments to athletes. In a statement released on Twitterthe Gator Collective (one of three said to serve UF athletes) explained how it pays athletes of all sports to the school.
Q: Does the Gator Collective support NIL deals negotiated and funded by third parties?
GC writes contracts that directly fund its membership fees. GC also writes contracts that third parties such as corporations negotiate and finance.
Gator Collective sits in the middle of a web of parties. First, there is Rashda’s camp, including his parents and NIL representatives. Then there’s the UF athletics program itself, which tries to keep the collective at bay so it really remains a third party. That can lead to a Catch-22: if, say, head coach Billy Napier or athletic director Scott Stricklin are too involved, that’s a bad thing, and if they don’t know anything at all, it’s just as bad as it was in the 1980s when rogue Boosters distributed cars and cash. Finally, there are the people directly funding the NIL deals, from the regular donors who pledge $10 to those who can be called upon to give millions, as would be the case with Rashada’s deal. It’s doubtful you’d find their names on any contracts, but believing that dozens of deals had been struck previously led everyone involved to believe this one was going to happen. Well, that’s not the case, the blame game is a tricky game in a third-party Russian nesting doll that’s being supercharged by fandom and competition.
A big unsolved mystery in all of this is how exactly the deal for Rashada, which the market estimates should have fetched around $5 or $6 million at most, more than doubled. At the beginning of December it became clear that the collective could not cover the amount owed. It sent a so-called “simple” resignation letter to Rashada’s camp. Whether word of the termination reached Rashada himself is unclear, as he still signed his national letter of intent with Florida on Dec. 21 and went to the Under Armor All-American game in early January without indicating he was wavering on his Decision in several conversations. According to a source, he and his family stayed in the Orlando area for a few more days before flying back to California. On the weekend of Jan. 8, it emerged that Rashada was not on campus with the other signers in Florida’s Class of 2023 who had enrolled early.
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During Rashada’s recruitment, sources have claimed he wanted to be in Florida. Whether his camp could have tried to call the Gator Collective’s bluff (assuming they would have to come up with the money somehow) and/or appease him with assurances that everything would work out is unclear.
Rashada’s recruitment was already a whirlwind before it happened, which drew the attention of NCAA officials for violations, according to multiple sources. He originally signed for Miami in June, with the Canes beating Texas A&M and Florida, among others. That came with the drama about who actually represented him at the time. (As a California resident, Rashada was able to sign a NIL deal as a high school student).
Rashada eventually made the switch to UF in the fall, which was the long-rumored result of the summer’s original NIL fiasco. In his press conference early on the day of the signing, Napier said that after playing the Under Armor All-American game in Orlando on Jan. 3, Rashada would “drop right in” and sign up for the spring semester. That press conference was delayed while Florida waited for Rashada to send his signed letter of intent, sparking some concern in the fan base.
Fair or unfair, that situation reflects poorly on Napier, who could have capitalized on an offseason win after a regular season without nearly enough. Expecting fans to really understand the nuances of the collective structure is difficult, even when the situation is simple.
Where Florida’s quarterback situation goes from here is unclear. Outstanding Talent Anthony Richardson joins the NFL after a season of ups and downs, with backup Jalen Kitna fired from the team after being arrested for possession of child pornography. Florida has been active in the transfer portal linked to former Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman and Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall. Hartman transferred to Notre Dame and McCall returned to Coastal after entering the portal. The Gators landed on Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz, formerly a standout recruit who failed to consistently fulfill his potential at Madison. Rashada could have been able to get some significant playing time earlier in his career. Florida’s QB room also includes Jack Miller, who started in the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon State and went 13-of-22 for 180 yards. Four-star DJ Lagway, a top 2024 QB commit from Texas, signed on in December and told 247Sports he plans to return to Gainesville for a visit on Jan. 28.
For Rashada, he has reportedly planned visits to Colorado and Arizona State, his father Harlen’s alma mater. There are no winners here except for the school that Rashada will eventually sign with to begin his college career. As is often the case with recruitment deals gone awry, the adults in the situation have failed the young man, from his parents to his agents to those in and around the Gator Collective ecosystem. No one is blameless and no one is entirely to blame, and that’s the problem.