The Florida portion of the Jaden Rashada saga has reached an end with the school officially releasing him from his letter of intent, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to Sports Illustrated following a report by On3 Sports Friday morning.
What remains in the wake in Gainesville is the messiest name, image and likeness fiasco in the 18-month history of this era of college sports. At some point, something like this was always bound to happen. It will almost certainly happen again, too, as recruiting never stops and a barely-regulated market rolls on with varying answers as to who and how the genie gets put back in the bottle.
This is the purest example of a fledgling market going through growing pains. But put aside the cold business talk for a second and remember that the tragedy is that despite an originally signed agreement with one of Florida’s third party collectives, the Gator Collective, Rashada has been paid at most “a very miniscule amount,” if anything at all. all, out of his four-year contract set between $13 and 14 million to attend Florida in November. It’s doubtful he’ll get anything near that from his new school, given that according to industry experts On3 spoke to, the going rate for a quarterback is around $750,000 per year and only goes upwards of $1 million in specific cases. And yet Rashada was set to be paid around $3.25 million per year in tranches over the life of the deal.
The blame game for this starts with the NCAA, which passed the buck on athlete compensation for over a century, allowing under the table payments to flourish. The organization outsourced player payments to third parties, a path of least resistance. Out of that, a burgeoning industry of collectives has flourished where donors fund payments to athletes. In a statement released on Twitterthe Gator Collective (one of three that operate ostensibly to serve UF athletes) explained how it pays athletes of all sports at the school.
Q: Does Gator collectively facilitate NIL deals negotiated and funded by third parties?
GC writes contracts that its member contributions fund directly. GC also writes contracts that third parties such as businesses, negotiate and fund.
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 is the UF athletics program itself, which attempts to keep the collective at an arms distance so it truly remains a third party. That can create a catch-22: If, for instance, head coach Billy Napier or athletic director Scott Stricklin are too involved, that’s a bad thing, and if they know nothing at all, it’s just as bad as the 1980s, when rogue boosters were handing out cars and cash. Finally, there are the people who fund the NIL deals directly, from the regular donors pledging $10 to those who can be called upon to give millions, as would be the case with Rashada’s deal. It is doubtful you’d find their names on any contracts, but the belief that dozens of deals had been done before led all involved to believe this one would come through. Now that is not, the blame game is a tricky one in a Russian nesting doll of third parties supercharged by fandom and competition.
A great unsolved mystery in all of this is how exactly the deal for Rashada, that by market estimation should have checked in at most around $5 or $6 million, ended up more than double that figure. In early December, it became clear that the collective was not going to be able to cover the amount owed. It sent what sources called a “basic” termination letter to Rashada’s camp. Whether word of the termination reached Rashada himself is unclear given the fact that he still signed his National Letter of Intent on Dec. 21 with Florida, and went to the Under Armor All-American game in early January giving no indication he was wavering on his decision in multiple interviews. According to a source, he and his family stayed in the Orlando area for a few extra days before flying back to California. Over the weekend of Jan. 8, it became apparent that Rashada was not on campus with the other signees in Florida’s 2023 class who enrolled early.
Throughout Rashada’s recruitment, sources have asserted that he wanted to be at Florida. Whether his camp could have been trying to call the Gator Collective’s bluff, (figuring it would have to come up with the money somehow) and/or placating him with assurances that everything would work out is unclear.
Rashada’s recruitment had already been a whirlwind before any of this happened, drawing the attention of NCAA infractions officials, according to multiple sources. He originally committed to Miami in June, with the Canes beating out Texas A&M and Florida among others. That came with drama surrounding who was actually representing him at the time. (As a California resident, Rashada was able to sign an NIL deal as a high schooler).
Rashada eventually flipped to UF in the fall, which was the long-rumored result of the summer’s original NIL fiasco. In his early signing day press conference, Napier said that Rashada would “come right over” after playing in the Under Armor All-American game in Orlando on Jan. 3 and enroll for the spring semester. That press conference was delayed as Florida waited for Rashada to send his signed letter of intent, causing some anxiety in the fanbase.
Whether fair or unfair, this situation reflects poorly on Napier, who could have used an offseason win after a regular season without nearly enough. Expecting fans to really grasp the nuance of the collective structure is difficult, even when the situation is simple.
Where Florida’s quarterback situation goes from here is anyone’s guess. Standout prospect Anthony Richardson is off to the NFL after an up-and-down season, his backup Jalen Kitna was dismissed from the team following an arrest for possession of child pornography. Florida was 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 ended up with Graham Mertz from Wisconsin, formerly a standout recruit who did not consistently meet his potential in Madison. Rashada could have been in a position to have significant playing time early 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, committed in December, and told 247Sports he plans to return to Gainesville for a visit on January 28.
For Rashada, he reportedly has visits scheduled with Colorado and Arizona State, his father Harlen’s alma mater. There are no winners here besides the school who Rashada will eventually sign with to begin his college career. As is often the case in recruiting deals gone wrong, the adults in the situation let the young man down, from his parents, to his agents, to those in and around the Gator Collective ecosystem. Nobody is blameless and nobody is completely at fault, and that’s the problem.