TEMPE, Ariz. — One of the most dangerous men in college athletics hardly looks the part. Grant House recently relaxed in a downtown Tempe hotel lobby sporting jeans, a scruffy beard and a T-shirt that read “You Probably Don’t Recognize Me Without My Cape.”
In that sense, the Arizona State swimmer was your typical college student. Definitely not Superman.
His swim practices alone take up to 20 hours per week. The humble 24-year-old graduate student from Indiana is lucky to be recognized.
“I was out to dinner three or four weeks ago and I got stopped by two freshmen on the football team,” House recalled. “They said, ‘You’re Grant House, right? You’re the swim guy.'”
He is much more than that. House is the lead plaintiff in an antitrust lawsuit that could change college athletics. House v. NCAA seeks to wipe out the remainder of the NCAA’s ability to cap compensation. The suit claims college athletes are entitled to a share of college sports TV revenue as well as money from their likenesses appearing in video games.
Because it is an antitrust case, damages could be tripled. If the case goes to a jury and the NCAA loses, the association could be on the hook for at least $1.4 billion.
USA Today recently quoted a sports economics expert for the plaintiffs who said 7,000 current and former athletes would be entitled to that money.
“It’s the case that could end the NCAA,” sports law attorney Mit Winter told CBS Sports.
Maybe not dangerous, but House is certainly willing and ready to be the thoughtful tip of this legal spear. His fellow plaintiffs include women’s basketball star Sedona Prince, now at TCU, and former Illinois football player Tymir Oliver. House previously sat for a seven-hour deposition in January, one in which he was grilled by NCAA attorneys.
House recalls being inspired by music students while in ASU’s honors college. As musicians, those students could get paid to play at Carnegie Hall, yet athletes’ earnings are capped by the NCAA.
“I always thought it was interesting that … if [those musicians] can monetize this, take it to the farthest reaches, I couldn’t because I was an athlete doing my own aspirations and dreams,” House said. “… That just didn’t sit well with me and confused me a lot.”
House was approached to be part of the lawsuit during COVID-19 after a practice in 2020 when teammate Cameron Smith was on the phone with her mother.
“All I hear from the background is, ‘I know someone who might be interested in this — my teammate Grant,'” House recalled.
That mom, Shelby Smith, is an attorney with Seattle-based Hagens Berman, which has a notable history with the NCAA. Most significantly, the firm was co-lead counsel in the Alston case that led to the NCAA granted name, image and likeness rights to athletes in 2021.
“It was really interesting to be approached … and having Alston pass during the very beginning stage of this suit to the point the NCAA’s hands had to be forced to make changes,” House said.
House has heard the NCAA’s claims over the years that locker rooms would fracture if athletes were compensated. Now, it’s actually happening — the compensation part, not the fracturing.
“I know there are quarterbacks getting millions of dollars. I’m not getting that. Good for them. I want them to actualize that,” House said.
He added: “I can imagine [locker room issues] in maybe some places where younger athletes have egos and haven’t developed as much. I blame that on the culture. I don’t blame that on NIL. If your culture is that fragile, that weak, you as a university need to fix that.”
House’s participation could be part of the beginning of an end. The case is being heard by Claudia Wilken, already famous for presiding over the Alston and the O’Bannon cases. House is the swim team’s first College Sports Communicators (CSC) academic All-American in 31 years. This week, he graduates with a Master’s degree in sports law and business. Now, it’s full-on training for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
During a year in which the Pac-12’s best stories have been overshadowed by its media rights negotiations, House should be celebrated. He swam at ASU under legendary coach Bob Bowman, who coached Olympic hero Michael Phelps and was served atop the United States’ 2016 Rio Olympics swim team.
House’s legal pursuit may not be palatable to a league that is a defendant in the suit (along with the other Power Five conferences), but he is one of the most decorated swimmers in Arizona State. The case would go to trial in September 2024.
“He’s fully aware [of the importance],” said Hagens Berman attorney Emilee Sisco, who is working with House on the case.
“He was our lead plaintiff from the start,” she added.
The lawsuit winds its way through court as the NCAA remains under fire on many fronts. While NCAA president Charlie Baker is advocating for a federal NIL bill on Capitol Hill, several states have passed their own bills prohibiting the association’s reach in restricting benefits. If the NCAA doesn’t get Congressional help or change itself, the courts may do it for them.
“I think athletes deserve to actualize whatever their hopes, dreams and talents allow them to,” House said.
The son of two educators, he’s not out to get rich. He has a couple of modest NIL deals — not engaging with an agent, by the way. There are also deals with a fitness apparel brand and a nutritionist that helps him train.
“I just it was amazing how repetitive the questions were,” said House about being grilled by NCAA lawyers in that January deposition. “How many times we went over the same responses, the same questions. … It was an opportunity [to say], ‘No, this is what I believe in. This is what I’ve learned. This what I stayed passionate about.'”
House has heard all the NCAA arguments, including that fans will stop coming to games. Alabama played for the national championship two seasons ago with quarterback Bryce Young earning at least a reported $3 million through his career. College football attendance enjoyed its largest year-over-year increase in 41 years.
Women’s basketball tournament ratings also went through the roof this season.
“For me, the performance always comes first and foremost,” House said. “If that is lacking or my performance in the classroom is lacking, then everything else needs to be settled down. I hope that’s what it’s like for every athlete.”