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Florida under NCAA investigation year after high-profile NIL blow-up

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida is under NCAA investigation a year after a failed name, image and likeness deal worth more than $13 million with former signee Jaden Rashada.

The Gators released the NCAA’s notice of inquiry Friday to The Associated Press and the Tampa Bay Times after the newspaper’s lawyers got involved. Both news agencies filed public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act last October.

The NCAA’s letter, dated June 9, 2023, is addressed to school president Ben Sasse and states the NCAA enforcement staff has begun an investigation into the football program. Names of investigators were redacted, and Rashada was not mentioned.

The NCAA asked the school not to conduct its own investigation and said it would notify the institution “soon regarding the projected timeline of the investigation.”

“We have been and will continue to cooperate with the NCAA,’ said Steve McClain, a senior associate athletics director at Florida. ‘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.”

It’s the second NCAA investigation for Florida in the past four years. The Gators were placed on probation for a year and then-coach Dan Mullen was dealt a one-year, show-cause penalty for recruiting violations in 2020.

Rashada signed with Florida last December only to be granted his release a month later after his NIL deal fell through. Florida coach Billy Napier has repeatedly said NCAA rules prohibit him from providing details about what went wrong with Rashada.

Napier also said he did not expect an NCAA investigation.

“I wish we could get into the specifics, but we’re not allowed to,” Napier said last year. “I think the reality is the current structure of NIL with third parties being involved, with agents being involved, with marketing representatives, with lawyers, with collectives, (is) very fluid, and I think a very unique dynamic.”

Rashada, who threw for 5,275 yards and 59 touchdowns in high school in Pittsburg, California, was granted his release on Jan. 20 and later signed with father’s alma mater, Arizona State.

Rashada bailed on Florida after the Gator Collective — an independent fundraising group that’s loosely tied to the university and pays student-athletes for use of their name, image and likeness — failed to honor a multiyear deal that was signed by both sides.

The bombshell came a little more than two months after Rashada switched his verbal commitment from Miami to Florida. Rashada, his representatives and the Gator Collective had presumably agreed to terms on the lucrative deal at the time of his flip.

The Gator Collective has since been disbanded.

Rashada declined to enroll with other Florida signees days after playing in an all-star game in nearby Orlando last January. He eventually returned to the West Coast and started looking at other schools.

It’s unclear when Napier realized the deal was falling apart or how much he even knew about the NIL deal. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from being involved in striking NIL deals with current players or prospective ones.

“I think you spend your entire life, your entire career trying to establish who you are and how you operate,” Napier said. “I think, ultimately, I can lay my head down at night based off of that. … Ultimately, the good thing here is I have a lot of confidence with our leadership, strategy that we’re deploying, how it’s benefitting our team — the group of players we have on our team. I think we’re going about it the right way.”

Napier has repeatedly expressed frustration with the way NIL deals and the transfer portal have dramatically changed the landscape of college football.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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