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Where is Jaden Rashada's lawsuit against Florida coach Billy Napier headed?

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos05/22/24

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On Tuesday morning, Georgia quarterback Jaden Rashada filed a lawsuit against Florida head coach Billy Napier, mega-donor Hugh Hathcock and former staff member Marcus Castro-Walker.

Hathcock’s former company, Velocity Automotive, was also named as a defendant for the role it was supposed to play in a four-year, $13.85 million NIL deal, which is at the center of the suit. A former top-100 prospect in the 2023 class, the complaint claims Rashada was repeatedly lied to for him to flip his commitment from Miami to Florida.

Included in the 37-page filing is an accusation that Napier promised Rashada $1 million if he signed his National Letter of Intent on early National Signing Day in 2022. The quarterback was also allegedly owed a $500,000 signing bonus on Dec. 5, 2022, which was never paid out despite multiple reassurances, according to the court documents.

It’s the latest chapter in the NIL-fueled storyline between Rashada and the Gators. And it’s another unprecedented moment in college sports, with a current quarterback suing a head coach.

“For a student to sue a coach basically says the school, via its head coach, is making the offer not through the collective or a third party, but directly through a school,” sports attorney and New York Law School professor Dan Lust told On3 on Tuesday.

“That allegation at the center of the complaint is the biggest lawsuit we’ve seen to date. It says the school, a direct employee of the school, was the one directing these efforts. This is a seismic lawsuit. At the time this occurred, nothing was allowing a coach to have this kind of involvement with the payment scheme.”

What happened in Jaden Rashada’s recruitment?

The suit says talks with Florida reignited roughly four months after Rashada committed to Miami, when Castro-Walker reached out to agents, Jackson Zager and Tommy Thomsen, in October 2022. According to the suit, the former director of player engagement sent a text message saying “We need to lock down Jaden!” He also wrote, “[UF would] want [Jaden] to flip this week.”

On Nov. 10, 2022, the same day Rashada would ultimately flip to Florida, Hathcock declined to use Velocity Automotive or his NIL collective, the Gator Guard, to directly fund the NIL payments, according to the complaint. Documents say Castro-Walker and Hathcock instead opted to work with the other Florida-driven NIL collective, The Gator Collective, and the booster planned to pay Rashada through the collective. 

On Dec. 6, the day after the $500,000 bonus was due, the Gator Collective terminated the contract in a letter sent to Rashada, sources told On3. On National Signing Day on Dec. 21, 2022, the quarterback had still not received a payment, according to the case.

“These actions culminated with Coach Napier himself vouching that UF alumni were good on their promise that Jaden would receive $1 million if he signed with UF on National Signing Day,” the complaint states.

After being released from his National Letter of Intent, Rashada reopened his recruitment and landed at Arizona State. The quarterback was thrown right into the mix in 2023 as a true freshman, starting the first two games of the season. In three games, he completed 53.7% of his passes while throwing for 485 yards and four touchdowns. He was 1-2 in three starts. He transferred to Georgia during last month’s spring portal window.

Where is Jaden Rashada-Billy Napier lawsuit headed?

Summons were issued shortly after the complaint was filed Tuesday. Napier and Castro-Walker have yet to return requests for comment through phone calls and text messages.

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. The complaint is an unprecedented look into high-level NIL negotiations in college football.

“We do not comment on ongoing litigation, and neither the University Athletic Association nor the University are named in the complaint,” Florida athletic department spokesman Steve McClain told On3 regarding Rashada’s lawsuit against Napier. “The UAA will provide for Coach Napier’s personal counsel, and we will direct all questions to those representatives.”

Most of the allegations included in the complaint are not accompanied with evidence outside of text messages. There are no texts from Billy Napier in the suit.

“Coach Napier said [Hathcock’s] on a plane and that he will wire 1 Mil,” Jaden Rashada’s father, Harlen, wrote in a text message to Zager and Thomsen. “He wants the paperwork, and I’m sending it if you are good.”

Could Rashada, defendants settle?

Rashada only was paid $150,000 of his $13.85 million deal, according to the filing, which was immediately used to pay back Miami booster John Ruiz. The LifeWallet CEO allegedly agreed on a $9.5 million deal with the quarterback when he committed to the Hurricanes.

“Text messages are one thing, we’ll see what comes out of this,” Lust told On3. “You certainly don’t have to prove your case on day one. But you can imagine a whole host of people from the Miami side, from the Florida side, will be called in to answer questions about this series of events.

“I’ve been lecturing on this case for a year-plus at this point. The statute of limitations hasn’t run, there are 13 million reasons to sue. The complaint says he didn’t receive a large sum of money to go to Arizona State or Georgia. The way this NIL business works. We’re really only concerned about that first contract he got. … His allegation is he was supposed to get a long-term contract to stay at Florida. Thirteen million dollars. By him not taking the money at Arizona State and at Georgia, as the complaint seems to allude to, he’s not really reducing his amount in controversy.”

So where is the lawsuit headed? Will it ever see a jury trial? Within 21 days of receiving the summons issued on Tuesday, the defendants must answer the complaint filed by Rashada or file a motion. At the very least, this is headed to a handful of depositions.

“If we’re playing the odds, most cases settle,” Lust said. “Most cases don’t go to trial. I think there’s a real fear for Florida and those in and around Florida about potential violations here, with respect to the school.”

Will NCAA take action?

The short answer is no. While the $500,000 signing bonus allegedly promised to Rashada is an inducement, the NCAA halted all NIL investigations this past February. The move came after a preliminary injunction was handed out by a federal judge in Tennessee allowing booster-funded NIL collectives to communicate with high school recruits and transfer portal players.

The NCAA is also knee-deep in settlement talks centering around the House v. NCAA lawsuit. The last thing the governing body is looking for is another legal battle. Multiple attorneys have told On3 that if this lawsuit dropped six months ago, the situation could be different.

The NCAA actually launched an investigation into Florida nearly a year ago that centered around Jaden Rashada. But with the halting of NIL investigations handed down by NCAA President Charlie Baker, odds are slim it takes action.

“I would have been really worried if I was Florida prior to the Tennessee stuff because NCAA would want to go after Florida and make an even bigger example of them,” Lust said. “But the question is if the NCAA has the temperature to want to go after Florida. This would otherwise be a really easy situation for them to sink their teeth into.

“Does this complaint contain new information that was already told to the NCAA? Do they decide to reopen this investigation if there’s any new alleged information in this complaint with some of these text messages and if they differ from anything previously given to the NCAA? I think, from the legal and academic perspective, that’s the really interesting one. If this complaint is different at all than what was previously on the NCAA’s radar.”