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Gene Frenette: 4-star QB Jaden Rashada flipping commitment to Gators shows player empowerment is real

Gene Frenette
Florida Times-Union
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Jaden Rashada (L), a 4-star quarterback recruit from California who recently flipped his commitment from Miami to Florida, gets a hug from Gators' offensive coordinator Rob Sale (R) after UF's victory last week over South Carolina.

If anybody dismisses the notion that legislation allowing college athletes to cash in on their name, image and likeness won’t turn recruiting into a wild, wild West scenario, the Jaden Rashada saga should refute any of those skeptics. 

Fans of both the Florida and Miami football programs can believe what they want about this back-and-forth story, which probably falls somewhere in-between comical and bizarre to outsiders with no agenda. 

But the commitment flip last week by Rashada, a Pittsburg, California 4-star quarterback, from the Hurricanes to Florida clearly reveals how player empowerment is evolving through NIL.

Gene's previous 3 columns

Amateurism, and the days of high-profile college athletes being told a free education is enough of a benefit, is now as dead as the T-formation. 

Rashada announced his updated commitment to Florida with a 43-second video post on Twitter, which contains clips of UF quarterback Anthony Richardson and former Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel. The video began with him stepping out of a blue Lamborghini, the vehicle the Gators arranged for him to pose with inside the Swamp on his recruiting visit. 

Probably not a good look to dissuade people who think something nefarious is going on. But no wink-wink, in this new recruiting world, what was once illegal is now fair game. 

Rashada and many high-level prospects — knowing it’s almost impossible for a weakened NCAA to prove high school kids are receiving inducements to go to Power 5 programs — can leverage this for all it’s worth without much fear of repercussion. 

Flipping out over QB commit 

You might remember after Rashada committed to Miami, pointed accusations flew back and forth between his California-based attorney, Michael W. Caspino, and the Gator Collective. It was a very Hatfield vs. McCoys exchange. 

Caspino refuted charges that Rashada chose UM strictly for an alleged $9.5 million offer by booster John Ruiz, saying to On3Sports that his client “left millions on the table” because Florida offered $11 million. 

The California kid chimed in as well, denying that his decision to commit to Miami had anything to do with an NIL deal. 

“I would never make a life/career choice for any monetary value,” said Rashada, ignoring the fact that people in the real world do that all the time. 

Fueling this Kardashian-like reality show, Caspino ripped the Gator Collective in the recruitment process, saying it was “the most dysfunctional collective in all of college football.” He then added: “I plan on steering my clients away from them. If it weren’t for the collective that’s completely dysfunctional at Florida, he probably would have been there.” 

That was five months ago, and GC responded by saying it refused to engage in dialogue with Caspino because they didn’t like “his tactics,” contending it violated Florida law and put athletes at risk. 

Apparently, whether it was a change of heart by Rashada or an exchange of something else, it’s all good now. He’s full of Gator love and will presumably make that official during the early signing period (Dec. 21-23). 

Florida fans who were furious over Rashada committing to Miami are singing a different tune now. All that matters is head coach Billy Napier, possibly trending toward a top 5 recruiting class, got the quarterback that many envision as Anthony Richardson’s successor. 

But stay tuned. In the fickle world of recruiting and transfer portals, who knows if another Rashada flip might be in his future. 

Expensive arms race 

Chaos was bound to happen once NIL, whose legislation varies state by state, became legal. 

The higher-resourced Power 5 schools began loading up their collectives, preparing a war chest for the arms race that is now ensuing for big-time recruits like Rashada, the top dual-threat QB in the country. 

“I thought the day would come where players would share in the revenue instead of just coaches making five, six, seven, eight and nine million dollars a year,” said former Florida coach Steve Spurrier. “I didn’t know free agency all the way around would happen.” 

Spurrier added half-jokingly: “I guess a high school could tell a kid, ‘Come over and we’ll give you $25,000.'"

Rashada didn’t do anything different than a lot of players do in every recruiting cycle: he changed his mind. 

But given the contentiousness of rival schools pursuing Rashada so vigorously, combined with an NIL environment filled with rumors about million-dollar paydays, stories like this are likely going to become more plentiful. 

It certainly raised more than a few eyebrows when UF booster Hugh Hatchcock posted this on Twitter the day before Rashada’s announcement: “Tomorrow will be a Great Day Gator Fans!!!” 

For college football fans, recruiting wins have become almost as important as the ones on game days. In fact, UF supporters seem to take greater delight these days in reeling in a 4-star or 5-star recruit than beating any SEC opponent not named Georgia or Alabama. 

Rashada will likely be reaping the benefits of a nationwide arms race. When speaking in June to 100 members of the Columbus business community, Ohio State coach Ryan Day declared in the new NIL world that the Buckeyes would need $13 million to keep their roster intact. 

“I’m not trying to sound the alarm,” said Day. “I’m just trying to be transparent about what we’re dealing with.” 

Players holding leverage 

One SEC recruiter, who requested anonymity, is in favor of players making money off NIL, but acknowledges it’s hard to know what takes place behind enemy lines when it comes to collectives and recruits before they get to college. 

“NIL is something we have to deal with and it’s not going away,” the recruiter said. “It's come further than I thought it would in just one year. The hard part is knowing what’s real and not real. That’s the problem. You don’t see a contract. 

“It’s not like it’s public [knowledge] or the collective has to send something in and disclose what’s going on. It’s really kind of crazy. Obviously, it becomes more of a talking point when a player flips.” 

Especially when that player is a highly coveted quarterback like Rashada, who also considered LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. In announcing his previous Miami commitment, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound QB said he chose the ‘Canes for their “facilities, coaches and South Beach vibe.” 

Five months later, after switching to Florida, he implored people on Twitter to respect his decision and declared in capital letters: “IM HOME.” 

These days, it’s hard to tell where a lot of players’ football homes are because many of them flock to the transfer portal for multiple reasons. Unfettered free agency has arrived, triggering roster turnover at record levels. 

Florida defensive back Kamar Wilcoxson, receiver Trent Whittemore and tight end Nick Elksnis, an Episcopal High product, are among those leaving the Gators before the season even ends. With likely a lot more to come. 

Between the immeasurable impact of NIL on recruiting and the transfer portal option, players feel more emboldened than ever. They have unprecedented leverage, and there’s little question Rashada and others are using that to their advantage. 

We may never know exactly what transpired behind the scenes to ultimately convince Rashada to back out of his Miami commitment and pick Florida. 

Was it a coincidence he announced his decision at the same time UM’s season began unraveling and right after the Gators’ big road win at Texas A&M? That’s all speculative. So is whatever he makes off NIL. 

When Miami and Florida have a home-and-home series in 2024 and ‘25, a lot of eyes will be on Rashada to see what kind of impact he has on games where both programs envisioned him as their future starting quarterback. 

By then, it’s anybody’s guess how much NIL income Jaden Rashada and future stars will make off endorsements and their brands. 

One thing is certain: Player empowerment, as well as entitlement, has never been higher. 

Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540  

Gene Frenette Sports columnist at Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette

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