The Notre Dame version of events is that Manti Te'o is still the hero everyone thought he was. He's just not so good at using the internet.
Jack Swarbrick, the school's athletic director, at one point broke down and cried tonight during a 40-minute press conference to address the situation. While deferring to Te'o on several occassions, saying Te'o himself would possibly address the media as early as tomorrow, Swarbrick said Te'o had learned of the hoax in early December. Te'o told him that when he was at the ESPN awards, which aired Dec. 6, he took a phone call from a woman whose phone number matched Lennay Kekua's. "When he answered it," Swarbrick said, "it was a person whose voice sounded like the same voice he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead." Te'o waited until Dec. 26 to inform his coaches, and he met with Swarbrick the following day. Eventually, Notre Dame hired private investigators to look into the matter.
The investigators reported back with their findings on Jan. 4. Swarbrick met with Te'o's parents in Miami the day after that to inform them of what had been discovered. "It was my understanding," Swarbrick said, "that they were on a timetable to release the story themselves next week." Things obviously didn't work out that way. Swarbrick specifically likened what happened to Te'o to the documentary Catfish, and to the MTV spinoff it spawned. "It is a scam ... that follows the exact arc of this. It's perpetrated with shocking frequency, and it's just [like] this one: an initial casual engagement, a developing relationship online, a subsequent trauma—traffic accident, illness—and then, a death. Again, as hard as it is for me to get my arms around this, there's apparently some sport in doing this, and being able to do it successfully."
Swarbrick went on to say the investigators had stumbled upon some sort of "online chatter among the perpetrators." Swarbrick deflected a question about the multiple instances in which Te'o fed reporters stories about having met Kekua by saying Te'o could answer them himself. Remember? The South Bend Tribune said they supposedly locked eyes after the ND-Stanford game in 2009. The same paper later wrote that Teo's father, Brian, said Kekua sometimes traveled to Hawaii to see Te'o, though the family had never met her. Te'o told ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski Kekua was "the love of my life."
"But I will tell you this was exclusively an online relationship," Swarbrick said at one point, later adding that he knew Te'o and Kekua had also communicated over the phone. One reporter who had written a story about an in-person meeting between Te'o and Kekua going as far back as 2009 asked for clarity. Swarbrick said Te'o had told him the inital meeting with Kekua had taken place online. "Several meetings were set up," Swarbrick said, "where Lennay never showed, including some in Hawaii." So: Manti Te'o was drawn in this far by a "girlfriend" he never met and who blew him off more than once when he did try to meet her.
Toward the end of the press conference, one reporter asked Swarbrick if the situation had affected Te'o's performance in the BCS title game. God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.