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Sprints Feels a Bit Surreal, But Still Realer Than Lennay Kekua Was // 01.17.13

One of the most famous players in college football had a made-up girlfriend. Who died. But not really, because she was made-up, you see

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Generally -- and almost without exception -- we keep the spotlight around these parts on the SEC. We are an SEC sports blog first, and a general college football blog second. But every once in a while, a story so strange and significant from another conference forces us to change things up. Wednesday was one of those days.

This is where things started getting weird last night
In case you were living under a rock somewhere on Wednesday evening: Remember that uplifting story about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o? How he lost his grandmother and girlfriend within hours of each other, then took on the mantle of heart and soul of the Notre Dame defense and led them to the national title game? Well, all of that is true. Except the part about the girlfriend dying. Or existing.

But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.

Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar's office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there's no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

The photographs identified as Kekua -- in online tributes and on TV news reports -- are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te'o.

That's only a few paragraphs into a lengthy article on Deadspin that just gets weirder with each paragraph. So you'll want to read the whole thing, in part because a lot of what Deadspin highlights is key to picking apart the "poor Manti Te'o" storyline that's being pushed by Notre Dame and a lot of media outlets.

Exhibit A
From Manti Te'o's statement in response to the Deadspin story and the subsequent reports that he and Notre Dame knew about this close to a month ago:

I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. [Emphasis added.]

But that's not really entirely forthcoming on Te'o's part. Again, the Deadspin story quotes an article in the South Bend Tribune recounting the two bumping into each other after the 2009 Stanford game. If what Te'o and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick are saying now -- that Te'o never actually met Kekua in person -- is true, then the story relayed to the Tribune is a lie. And since they obviously never spoke to Kekua, there's a very short list of people who could have given that anecdote to the Tribune.

What Jack Swarbrick said
The whole transcript of what is one of the weirdest press conferences I have ever watched -- and I've watched a lot of press conferences -- is worth a read. But some relevant excerpts worth noting.

He did, and, again, I'm going to let Manti tell the story because he deserves that right. What I will tell you, this was exclusively an online relationship.

Again, this contradicts what Te'o has said, or at least led people to believe, in the past. So he lied. He might be the victim of this hoax in some way, but it doesn't change the fact that Manti Te'o lied.

Here are Swarbrick's greatest gymnastics when pressed on that very point:

Q. I guess the reason I asked is Brian Te'o had mentioned an in person meeting to me and several in person meetings. This had been all the way back to 2009. Does your timeline go back that far, and how do you explain, again, the differences in that story with what you're characterizing as purely an online situation?
Jack Swarbrick: I think the timetable does line up, Eric. I don't have my notes in front of me, but I think that's right. You know, I think, as Manti tells the story, you'll see the same thing I saw, that it does fully line up. I will forecast it only in two ways. One is, when I first talked to Manti on the 27th about this and we went through it and I asked him to take me to the beginning, he began by saying we met on. I said, what do you mean you met on? It was an online meeting. He used the verb "we met," and he was referring to an online meeting. He responded to an online inquiry. That was the first time he met her.

Te'o suggested he had met Kekua in person. That never happened. But in Swarbrick's world, "it does fully line up." I do not think those words mean what he thinks they mean.

Q. And the last question for me. Does the Te'o family and Notre Dame intend to publish any part of the report, the findings in the future?
Jack Swarbrick: We do not.

Notre Dame has now admitted that Te'o has not been completely truthful about this and/or the athletics department and Te'o have been the victims of a massive fraud based on an MTV show -- but they're not going to disclose the information they developed on this case. Just trust them to tell you what the report says.

The "best" question comes in one of the weirder parts of the press conference, when Swarbrick says that the would-be hucksters were trying to get Manti Te'o to reconnect with Kekua.

Q. To be clear, when they tried to restart the relationship after Lennay admitted that she, in fact, had not died

Keep in mind that this is at least the third incident during Brian Kelly's tenure in which Notre Dame has been linked to a tragedy mixed with misjudgment at best, from the death of Declan Sullivan to the assault and death of Lizzy Seeberg. Are we really supposed to believe that this is all coincidental? Is Kelly's program really just that snakebit?

You have to start to wonder. And this press conference didn't clear up those questions. At some point, this becomes less a story about Manti Te'o and more a story about the repeated bombshells coming out of South Bend, and whether they indicate that the program is rotting at the core.

Of Catfish and Men
Of all the bizarre aspects of this story, perhaps the most bizarre one is that everyone is now talking about "catfishing." I was unaware of this until an intern for another media outlet in Tallahassee brought it up as we were discussing this story. Not long after that, Jack Swarbrick was talking about catfishing on stage. At Notre Dame. And Dr. Phil got dragged into this as well, somehow. I told you it was surreal.


Chip Kelly is going to the Eagles after all
Forget all the nice things I said about him staying at Oregon.

The SEC's deal is not really all that good
If you want to see why the conference is trying to renegotiate its TV deal, consider this.

It's about to get a lot better
USA Today estimates the new deal and revenues from the playoffs could be worth $34 million a school.

Words you never want to see in the same headline with a player's name: Grand theft auto
Although the "auto" in this case appears to be a scooter, and Jessaman Dunker was also driving without a license. It appears that Georgia's case of scooteritis is contagious. Take appropriate precautions.

Did he steal it or buy it?
And why does the fact that Dunker is saying it's the latter trouble Alligator Army?

John L. Smith has a new job
He's headed to Fort Lewis College in Division II. I miss him already.

San Diego State will remain in the Mountain West
Cue the happy conference commissioner that basically fended off the Big East raids of the last few years, which the exception of TCU (which also isn't actually in the Big East).

"I'm elated with our 12-team lineup," Thompson said. "We got the band back together."'

At least until the Big 12 gets an itchy trigger finger. Speaking of...

Read between the lines here
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is saying all of the things you would expect him to say about conference expansion. But he's also starting to sound a bit like Jim Delany does when he talks about conference expansion. The Big 12 might not do anything in the next few months, but I wouldn't be totally shocked if they make a move, particularly to the east.