The story about Manti Te'o and his fake dead girlfriend has taken over the internet.
Once the news was broken by Deadspin, the story went viral, taking over sports radio waves as well as internet chatter on ESPN, Yahoo and many other websites. Notre Dame has supported Te'o during this time, with athletic director Jack Swarbrick saying the linebacker was a victim of a hoax.
The release from Notre Dame said that Te'o informed the school of the hoax in late December and said that he was the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself" with Te'o, the school said, then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had died of leukemia.
According to NBCSports.com, Notre Dame engaged a private company to investigate the situation, with a report provided to the school on January 4. The investigation found, among other things, "online chatter among the perpetrators."
"At the end of the day this is Manti's story to tell, and we believe he has the right to tell it, which we believe he is going to do," Swarbrick said.
The story began after Deadspin published a report saying that the inspirational story about Te'o using his girlfriend's death from leukemia as an inspiration was found out to be a hoax. The report says that the girl Te'o claimed was his girlfriend was a made up identity and that the woman, Lennay Kekua, did not exist.
Te'o issued a statement Wednesday afternoon:
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her."
Te'o previously said that his girlfriend had inspired him to play better during the season and he helped the Irish make it to the BCS National Championship game against Alabama.
The Deadspin report stated that Kekua does not have a death certificate and Stanford, where she reportedly went to school, has no record of anybody by that name. According to ESPN.com, friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a high school classmate of Te'o, told Deadspin they believe he created Kekua.
According to Deadspin, the only photos that have been found online that identified Kekua are actually pictures of another 22-year-old woman. That woman, not named in the report, told Deadspin one of those photos likely was shared by Tuiasosopo.
Many people in football and the media have discussed what the news will do to Te'o's draft stock, which had already been plummeting before it came out. He was overpowered by Alabama's running backs on the opening drive of the national title game and finished with 10 tackles as the Irish defense was blown out 42-14. The team allowed over 500 total yards and gave up 265 rushing yards on the ground.
Initially looked at as a mid-to-late first round pick by most draft experts like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, now Te'o is being projected as a fourth or fifth round pick. Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick spoke at a press conference on Wednesday and supported Te'o, saying that the school was notified in December about the situation.
Te'o will address the media on Thursday to speak about the highly unusual situation. Another question that comes up with the situation now is, what if Te'o had won the Heisman trophy back in December? Would he have to give it back? The hoax, if he was involved, did not affect his play on the field, but his inspirational story may have influenced voters.
Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, who used to cover Notre Dame for the paper, said on ESPN Radio that he did vote for Te'o for the Heisman, saying it was so close between him and winner Johnny Manziel, that he used the inspirational story to decide on whom to pick.
Te'o finished second in the Heisman voting behind Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who broke Cam Newton's Southeastern Conference-record for total offense with 4,600 and threw for 3,419 yards 24 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. He completed over 68 percent of his passes and had a rating of 155.9.
Notre Dame's defense was totally dominated by Alabama in the national title game and finished the year ranked second in the nation in points with 12.8 per game. The Irish were rated number one for the majority of the regular season, finishing with 10.3 points per game.
Te'o finished the season with 113 tackles, 1.5 sacks, four passes defended and a nation-high seven interceptions. He had interceptions in back-to-back games against Brigham Young and Oklahoma and made a season-high 12 tackles against Michigan State on Sept. 15. Te'o made at least five tackles in every game during the 2012 season and had 5.5 tackles for loss.
In the final game against USC, Te'o had five tackles and one interception in Notre Dame's 22-13 win. He registered double-digit tackles in six games this season and had two interceptions in Notre Dame's 13-6 win on Sept. 22.
If it is found out that Te'o did in fact lie about the situation, there's no doubt there would have been some type of repercussion for him if he won the trophy. The Heisman is supposed to be about integrity, honesty, character and solid play on the field and if he was complicit in the hoax, voters should and will feel betrayed by having selected him on their ballots.
If he did win and the trophy was taken away, it would not be the first time that it has happened. Reggie Bush "forfeited" his trophy after the scandal came out about him taking money and improper benefits while at USC, with the school sending back its trophy to the Heisman trust at the Downtown Athletic Club of New York.
At first it is unclear what would happen, but if it comes out that Te'o violated any NCAA rules, the taking of the trophy would be justified. Obviously he did not win the trophy, but he became one of the only defensive players to finish that high in the voting, making him a historical figure in the context of the Heisman anyway.
This story has already taken the award for the strangest story of the year and guess what-there still is a whole lot more to find out about the whole thing. What did Te'o know and when did he know it? Did he have a relationship with the man who Deadspin claims set up the account?
So much remains unclear, but hopefully Te'o will address these issues in his press conference.