After defending Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o on Wednesday, the university on Thursday "stuck by its official version: Te’o was the target of a meanspirited and vicious hoax," leading to a day of "little clarity and deepening mystery," according to Steve Eder of the N.Y. TIMES. Te'o for his part "did not speak." His agent "did not offer a statement, and a rumored interview on national television never occurred." His agent said that Te'o "had been in Bradenton, Fla., training at the IMG Academy in preparation for the NFL draft." Notre Dame officials have been "criticized by some for not going to law enforcement when they learned of the possible hoax in late December" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18). In Miami, Barry Jackson reported ESPN was "hopeful Te’o would do an interview with Jeremy Schaap on Thursday ... but it never materialized." ESPN "wasn’t told it’s out of the running for a Te’o sit-down, but the network wouldn't be surprised if Te’o ends up on NBC, which owns rights to Notre Dame home games" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 1/17). TVNEWSER reports that ESPN and NBC News "have both been making their pitch to Notre Dame and people close to Te'o" (TVNEWSER.com, 1/18).
STAYING IN-HOUSE: In N.Y., Scott Cacciola reports Notre Dame "decided not to approach law enforcement," nor did it "notify the NCAA or BCS officials" after hearing of Te'o's issue. The university instead "hired its own private-investigation firm and waited nine days for its report." Even then, Notre Dame officials "did not notify law enforcement or correct the public record regarding Te’o’s girlfriend." Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said that those decisions "were Te'o's to make, and his alone." Notre Dame "considered at length whether it needed to contact law enforcement or the NCAA, but university officials ultimately determined it did not." Swarbrick said, "There’s no identify theft that we are aware of. There’s no extortion. There’s no violation of any NCAA rules" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18).
SWARBRICK IN FOCUS: In Indianapolis, Campbell & Keefer write Swarbrick "became the public face of the university's defense" of Te'o. Swarbrick has "put his reputation behind an idea that many are skeptical of: that Manti Te’o had no idea that Lennay Kekua ... did not exist." Swarbrick when reached Thursday said that he "stood by what he said." He said, "It’s consistent with what I believed would be starting to emerge.” Notre Dame sophomore student Kyle Murphy said, "If it comes out that Manti was in on it the whole time, it's going to look pretty bad on Swarbrick" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/18). In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes Swarbrick's "emotional Wednesday night press conference wasn't based in reality." ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg said, "But for Jack to be so totally behind Manti -- he has put everything behind Manti." Raissman: "Swarbrick has nothing to lose. His job is to protect the brand. No matter how it plays out, the Notre Dame brand ain’t taking a hit" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/18). ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski wrote Swarbrick "did more than vouch for Te'o's reputation; he all but dared anyone to question it." He "gave his unequivocal support" to Te'o (ESPN.com, 1/17). In Ft. Lauderdale, David Hyde writes Swarbrick has "the most to protect in this with Notre Dame's shield at stake." Hyde: "He is too smart to project a second lie on top of Te'o's obvious one. Isn't he?" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 1/18). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Futterman & Bachman write under the header, “Did Notre Dame Handle Te’o Situation Properly?” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/18). In DC, Nathan Fenno writes, “Everyone looks bad, from Notre Dame sitting on the hoax during the national championship … to veteran journalists, some of the elite of this business, who repeated the fiction” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 1/18).
GOING THROUGH A TIMELINE: YAHOO SPORTS’ Pat Forde cited sources as saying that some Notre Dame administrators “were pressing for a unilateral public disclosure by the school, while others wanted to let Te'o himself make the stunning news public.” Notre Dame officials were in contact with Te'o's agent, Tom Condon of CAA Sports, and they were told Te'o "planned to release his version of events." The decision was “made to wait and let Te'o and CAA control the message.” But that disclosure “never came, and instead the news broke in a bombshell report from Deadspin.” A source said that Notre Dame officials, “despite failing to get in front of the story … were certain it would become public knowledge.” The source said, “There was never a belief in any quarter that it wouldn’t get told” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/17). In DC, Erik Wemple examined Deadspin's coverage and timing of the story's release. It didn't get comment from Te’o or his father or Notre Dame. It also wrote a media story “without consulting all the various media outlets that fell for the hoax.” Deadspin Managing Editor Tom Scocca cited a “fear that you’re going to tip them off and they will have a press conference or they’ll find a friendly reporter and get something out in a hurry.” He added, “We wanted to get comment from them but saved that till the end and weren’t able to get any responses and pulled the trigger” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/17). Meanwhile, the SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE runs a detailed “Timeline Of Events” on its front page (SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE, 1/18).
REVIEWING THE PROCESS: SI published the “entire transcript of an interview with Te’o that led to an October regional cover story” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/18). SI’s Pete Thamel also gave a detailed account of his reporting on the Te’o story, which ran in the Oct. 1 issue (SI.com, 1/17). The South Bend Tribune was “explaining a story it published in October that included the detail that Te’o had met the girlfriend in person back in 2009” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18). ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski said Wednesday that more could have been done to verify the story, "but short of asking to see a death certificate, I’m not sure what most people would do differently on that case” (USATODAY.com, 1/17). The MIAMI HERALD's Jackson notes ESPN “vehemently denied The Big Lead’s suggestion that it knew of the hoax before the national championship game but decided not to report it” (MIAMIHERALD.com, 1/17).
FUTURE PROSPECTS: AD AGE’s Michael McCarthy noted there could be “significant damage" to Te'o's endorsement appeal. Baker Street Advertisers Exec VP & Exec Creative Dir Bob Dorfman asked, “If you can't believe him about his girlfriend, how can you believe him with a product in his hand?” (ADAGE.com, 1/17). ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell noted Spirit Airlines “posted an ad on its website proclaiming: ‘No hoax. These fares are really low,’ written in Notre Dame's blue and yellow just like its famous ‘Play Like A Champion Today’ sign.” The Florence (Ky.) Freedom, an Independent baseball team, “announced it would have ‘Manti Te'o Girlfriend Bobblehead Day.’” As part of the promotion in late May, “the first 1,000 fans will get an empty bobblehead box” (ESPN.com, 1/17). Social media consulting firm Sports Media Challenge CEO Kathleen Hessert said, “It’s the most absurd, convoluted, tragic social media-sports story I can remember. But if major banks can be hacked, if people can fall in love via Facebook, if young people can be abducted by strangers they meet on the Internet, then a Notre Dame football player can feel like he fell in love with somebody on the Internet” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/18).