Accusations fly regarding QB Jaden Rashada, NIL and his commitment to Miami over Florida
Jaden Rashada’s commitment Sunday afternoon wasn’t without controversy.
The highly recruited four-star quarterback out of Pittsburg (Calif.), during a ceremony broadcast live on CBS Sports HQ, verbally committed to the University of Miami over 32 additional scholarship offers. He had narrowed down to a top five of Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and the ‘Canes.
While the Hurricanes and their fanbase celebrated the addition of a potential difference-maker for the football program, the four Southeastern Conference powers vying for Rashada’s commitment were left disappointed, and in search of alternatives.
It didn’t take long for the conversation regarding Rashada’s commitment to shift to a name, image and likeness discussion.
Rashada's representative, California-based lawyer Michael W. Caspino, is with Forward Counsel in Newport Beach and also specializes in NIL legislation. Due to either media reports or social media reaction, Caspino seemed intent on getting ahead of any suggestions the quarterback chose Miami based on money.
In order to make his point, Caspino told Jeremy Crabtree of On3Sports that Rashada "left millions on the table" by spurning the Gators.
Crabtree seemed to back up Caspino's assertion by confirming with multiple sources that the Gators, through officially partnered NIL fund, The Gator Collective, offered Rashada a package worth $11 million in total — $1.5 million more than John Ruiz, a Miami booster who has drawn the attention of the NCAA, had offered to Rashada.
"He did not pick the highest offer," Caspino said. "He went there because he loves Miami, the coaches, and the opportunity.”
And that's what Rashada said during his announcement; the Hurricanes' facilities, coaching staff and the South Beach vibe were the reasons he committed to Miami.
War of words between player representative and Gator Collective
But Caspino went on to criticize The Gator Collective and its role in Rashada's recruitment, saying it played a significant role in steering the four-star signal-caller to an in-state rival.
“Florida is the most dysfunctional collective in all of college football,” Caspino told Crabtree. “I plan on steering my clients away from them. From my standpoint, I never ever want to deal with them again. If it weren’t for the collective that’s completely dysfunctional at Florida, he probably would have been there.”
Having faced some undesirable accusations, it didn't take long for both sides — The Gator Collective and Ruiz — to refute Crabtree's reporting and Caspino's claims.
The Gator Collective's statement, published on social media, read: “Gator Collective has never had any communications with Mr. Caspino about Jaden Rashada or any recruits. Rather, Gator Collective has refused to engage in any dialogue with Mr. Caspino on numerous occasions as Gator Collective does not approve of his tactics and has no interest in engaging in activities which violate Florida law and NCAA Interim Policy and may put athletes’ eligibility at risk.”
Crabtree said "On3 has independently reviewed a standard NIL contract from Caspino to confirm the language in the deal seemingly would make it compliant with existing bylaws", though Crabtree didn't report if he or On3 had reviewed an NIL deal signed by Rashada.
Florida-based attorney Darren Heitner, the founder of Heitner Legal who works with The Gator Collective to provide legal counsel regarding NIL law, who is frequently at the forefront of the discussion surrounding NIL legislation, had much to say Sunday and Monday regarding Caspino.
"Lawyer Michael Caspino just went on record, admitting to an NCAA violation. If he took an NIL deal, lesser or not, by picking the Hurricanes, then that's a violation no matter what his contract states," wrote Heitner. "The Gator Collective is not at all dysfunctional. It, like many other NIL collectives across the country, refuse to negotiate with Caspino. Instead, GC has/will continue to focus on supporting Florida Gator athletes."
NIL vs. pay for play debate
The 2023 class is the midst of the first full recruiting cycle under the legislation and influence of NIL. The NCAA says NIL deals cannot be used to entice recruits. Its NIL policy, adopted June 30, 2021, attempted to separate the difference between NIL and "pay-for-play" or inducement.
"The new policy preserves the fact college sports are not pay-for-play," Sandra Jordan, the Division II Presidents Council chair and the chancellor at the University of South Carolina Aiken, wrote in the policy. "It also reinforces key principles of fairness and integrity across the NCAA and maintains rules prohibiting improper recruiting inducements. It's important any new rules maintain these principles."
At the bottom of the policy, the NCAA laid out two critical steps: the policy is temporary; it will remain in place until either federal legislation changes, or the NCAA changes its rules — whichever comes first. The policy also granted schools and conferences the power to "adopt their own additional policies", which is vague and confusing even before considering there's no legislation forcing a state-funded university to disclose individual policies regarding name, image and likeness policy.
Heitner has spent much of the past month discussing the "rule-breaking" — inducement — going on behind the scenes when it comes to NIL, though he has preferred to keep the involved players anonymous at this time. On June 3, Heitner began a thread on his Twitter account regarding "a California lawyer" involved in said rule-breaking.
"An #NIL collective just told me that a California lawyer called asking whether the collective was willing to induce the athlete to commit to the school and said, "I represent several players that __ is recruiting, so you will be hearing from me again very soon," wrote Heitner.
"Heard from a few NIL collective and athletic department people with wild stories about this lawyer's negotiation scheme. Almost always pre-enrollment for either (high school) athletes or potential transfers. Sometimes lying about offers to drive up price. Many unwilling to deal with him. Bad news."
"The reality is that many athletes are being put in harm's way," Heitner wrote, "and I care too much about their well-being to ignore the exposure this lawyer is creating."
Following a conversation with Caspino on Twitter, Heitner retweeted his initial thread Monday, leading many to speculate his initial messages were indeed about Caspino.
Miami booster John Ruiz jumps in the fray
Ruiz, following Heitner's lead, hopped on social media and refuted any notion he'd worked with Caspino on a deal. Ruiz also denied his company, LifeWallet, had agreed to a $9.5 million deal with Rashada.
“The report by On3.com is inaccurate as it relates to Jaden Rashada,” Ruiz said. “I have never spoken to Mr. Caspino about Jaden Rashada. Mr. Caspino and I spoke about an unrelated player months ago and had a very professional and pleasant conversation. I respect him.”
Caspino, meanwhile, appeared to double down on his initial comments while backpedaling from the suggestion the deal was what ultimately led to Rashada's commitment to the 'Canes.
"Jaden Rashada is chasing one thing, a national championship. He views Miami as his best opportunity to achieve this goal. Florida fans please respect this," Caspino wrote. "I understand what the Florida collective is saying. Damage control. I get it. However, the FLA collective is run by inexperienced millennials. I deal with every collective in the country. Serious ventures call for serious leadership."
Meanwhile, UF continues quarterback search
The back and forth aside, the Gators are left to continue searching for a quarterback in the class of 2023, and it’s unclear where UF stands when it comes to a contingency plan at the position after striking out on Rashada.
UF extended a scholarship offer March 9 to Martin Luther King (Detroit, Mich.,) quarterback Dante Moore, the No. 4 quarterback in the class according to 247Sports and one of just three uncommitted quarterbacks that have publicly acknowledged receiving a scholarship offer from the Gators.
Otherwise, it’s slim pickings for Florida head coach Billy Napier – at least right now. With the current NCAA transfer portal situation, in addition to the likelihood of de-commitments late in the recruiting cycle as the 2022 season draws to a close, much could change over the next six months when it comes to Florida’s situation at quarterback for the Class of 2023.