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Who’s to blame for Florida Gators, Jaden Rashada stalemate?

The unprecedented situation in Gainesville is a product of a name, image and likeness marketplace that makes little sense.
Quarterback Jaden Rashada has signed with Florida, but his future with the Gators is unclear.
Quarterback Jaden Rashada has signed with Florida, but his future with the Gators is unclear. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Jan. 12

Something is going on with the Florida Gators and their top recruit, quarterback signee Jaden Rashada. That much is clear.

The details, however, are not. The recruiting/college sports site On3 reported Wednesday that Rashada has asked to be released from the letter of intent he signed with UF last month. Rashada’s father, Harlen, told 247Sports his son “has not filed a request for release from Florida,” but they’re “working through some things” with the Gators.

About 13 million things, according to the Orlando Sentinel. That, the Sentinel reported through an anonymous source, is the value of the name, image and likeness (NIL) deal at the center of this murky saga. Because Friday is the final day to drop or add classes for UF’s spring semester, there’s an urgency to resolve the process quickly.

Related: 6 takeaways from early signing day with Florida Gators, USF, FSU and Miami

Florida fans, naturally, are searching for a scapegoat as the college career of the Gators’ highest-rated quarterback signee since Will Grier hangs in the balance. Do you blame coach Billy Napier? Rashada and his family? Athletic director Scott Stricklin? The Gator Collective? All of the above? Someone else?

There isn’t one obvious answer. And that’s a major part of the problem.

Quarterback Jaden Rashada played in the Under Armour Next All-American Game earlier this month in Orlando.
Quarterback Jaden Rashada played in the Under Armour Next All-American Game earlier this month in Orlando. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]

Forget about the specific rumblings around Rashada and look at the entire college football landscape. The system has little accountability, little oversight and no transparency. It’s rife for abuse, disputes and, perhaps, holdouts.

Because teams cannot pay players directly, the name, image and likeness marketplace relies on middle men. One third party (an agent) can make a deal with another third party (an NIL collective) for a recruit or player. At some schools, a second collective may be involved, too. But the program and coaches can’t set up those conversations or secure those deals. That means programs are supposed to sit out potential multimillion-dollar negotiations that will go a long way in deciding their on-field successes or failures.

As Stricklin said in June — long before this Rashada stalemate: “(The) fact that we are outsourcing benefits currently is kind of crazy. It’s probably not ideal.”

It’s not ideal in the best circumstances. It’s even worse when problems arise.

Related: What’s the NCAA transfer portal window like? ‘Insanity’

Imagine a scenario where a player signs with a collective but doesn’t get the money he was promised. The coach and his team don’t control the collective and don’t employ any of the negotiators. They didn’t make the deal, and they aren’t supposed to be involved in fixing it, either. But they’re the ones who have to deal with the fallout from a third party’s failure. How often would that situation happen if the school simply paid the player directly?

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Imagine another scenario where a player has an NFL-style holdout because he wants more money. The school is reliant on outside figures to sort it out. How often does that happen in any other industry?

What if a player and his agent tell a collective they’re fielding other offers? Unlike most coaching contracts, name, image and likeness deals aren’t public. How can anyone verify the Monopoly-money figures being thrown around, especially in a new, fluid market?

It’s unclear if any of those hypotheticals pertain to Rashada. Speculating would be unfair to everyone involved.

It is clear, however, that something unusual, if not unprecedented, is happening in Gainesville. And it’s happening in a rapidly evolving landscape without transparency — a landscape where middle men have an outsized influence on acquiring and retaining the talent that means the difference between winning and losing.

Until that changes, expect to see more sagas like the one happening at Florida.

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