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The NCAA plans to finally enforce NIL rules, possibly endangering Florida over Rashada mess

“We don’t. No.”

That was how Billy Napier answered a question at his February National Signing Day press conference about whether he anticipates that UF would hear from the NCAA about the Jaden Rashada NIL mess. While Napier is not alone among coaches in doubting that there will be any investigation of potential NIL infractions, the NCAA really wants everyone to think that times are changing.

According to a Sports Illustrated report earlier this week, the NCAA has finally decided to take actions to actually enforce some of its NIL restrictions.

A new bylaw went into effect on the first of the year that allows the organization to presume schools guilty of violations, and the institutions then have to prove their innocence. It has staffed up in its enforcement wing, and it has more hires to go.

NIL enforcement will be tricky. The rules are not consistent from one state to another, as state legislatures didn’t all pass the same bill. This fact is why you’ll periodically hear the NCAA or college athletics administrators pine for federal NIL legislation: they just want to have a single set of rules for everyone.

They absolutely don’t have that now. For an obvious factor, the California NIL law covers high school athletes (as about half of state laws do). The Florida law does not. The Texas NIL law has vice provisions disallowing the endorsement of alcohol, tobacco, and gambling. The consistency is not there.

If you read even the first paragraph of the SI story, you saw a reference to Rashada. It’s no wonder; he’s probably the first athlete who comes to mind for a lot of folks when you bring up the topic of NIL.

That is why Florida fans should expect the NCAA to investigate how the Rashada story went down should this new enforcement push go forward as described.

Based on all of the reporting I saw from traditional media outlets with responsible reporting standards, it sounds to me like the situation got out of control because UAA brass were actually following the rules and staying out of NIL discussions.

The most detailed reporting was from G. Allan Taylor at The Athletic. His story says that the program had been trying “to keep these third-party NIL dealings at arm’s length”, and that “conversations… between donors and athletic department members” didn’t occur until after the proposed deal with Rashada had been terminated. If Napier’s answer yesterday is based solely on this being the case, I get where he’s coming from.

However, the NCAA released a two-page document about its new enforcement guidelines. It highlights the aforementioned ability of investigators to assume guilt, and then it moves on to give a non-exhaustive list of examples of violations.

Under the heading “Impermissible contacts/recruiters”, it gives an example of what’s not allowed: “A representative of the institution’s athletics interests (e.g., individual booster or collective) contacts a prospect or their family about potential NIL opportunities prior to the prospect signing with the institution.” Collectives can’t proactively reach out to unsigned recruits, in other words.

Other examples emphasize that pay-for-play via NIL isn’t allowed, nor is entering a college-related NIL deal prior to enrollment. I assume the latter is the NCAA’s attempt to dodge laws that allow high school athletes to profit from NIL, but again, I’m not a lawyer and don’t know whether that’s good enough to avoid an insta-lawsuit in a state like California.

The document also addresses the workaround that some collectives have used to try to avoid pay-for-play prohibitions. The contracts will both say that the deal is not an inducement to attend any particular university but also that the player must live or provide services in a specific city for everything to be valid. The specific city is inevitably the one where the collective’s favorite school is.

The NCAA document goes on from there if you want to see how the investigation process works. It doesn’t mention any penalties, so I don’t know what the worst-case scenario would be here.

Regardless, in the NCAA’s ideal world, it wouldn’t matter if Scott Stricklin, Napier, and anyone else on the UAA payroll stayed out of all NIL discussions with Rashada until after the deal was no more. If a booster or collective and a recruit can get to yes at any point, then it’s a violation even if no one on school staff was involved. There is still some confusion out there about what was verbal versus written with Rashada, but that’s moot because both written and verbal agreements are prohibited.

Rashada wasn’t the first recruit to reportedly agree on a big NIL contract. There was a mystery $8 million NIL deal before him, which would be another big target out there.

However, Rashada is now the face of NIL, and the crumbling of a $13 million deal for a high school football player made broader waves than just in recruiting circles. I am 100% convinced that the NCAA will investigate the Rashada mess — at both Miami and Florida — because of how symbolically important it would be to hammer a school or two over the most famous NIL fiasco. If they’re allowed to presume guilt and still don’t do anything here, what is anyone even doing?

I don’t pretend to know what will come of all of this, except that there will be some billable hours logged eventually. I just don’t know how far the NCAA can take this stuff without an antitrust exemption, which looks unlikely in the near future, or a collectively bargained deal between the NCAA and some kind of athletes union, which looks even less likely.

The NCAA has to do something, because rules are meaningless if they’re not enforced. If they do try to vigorously enforce them though, it could put them back in court. And since courtrooms haven’t been friendly to the NCAA in a good long while, that’d be a pretty big calculated risk. There’s a reason why the organization has done zilch to enforce NIL rules to date.

But, if the NCAA does actually do something to try to enforce NIL rules, I fully expect Florida to be in the spotlight for the Rashada story all over again.

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