Notre Dame v Michigan State

Swarbrick addresses Te’o situation, but questions remain

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Or, rather, one very key question remains.

The sports news cycle exploded Wednesday evening with a Deadspin report alleging that the story surrounding the death of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o‘s girlfriend was in fact a lie allegedly perpetrated in part by the player.  Both the University and Te’o followed that up with separate statements that each came to the same conclusion — Te’o had been duped by and became the unwitting victim of an elaborate hoax.

At a hastily arranged press conference Wednesday, athletic director Jack Swarbrick continued that theme.  In opening remarks before taking questions from the assembled media, Swarbrick described Te’o as “the perfect mark,” saying that the Heisman finalist “was the victim of that hoax. … is the victim of that hoax, and he will carry that with him for a while.”

Based on information relayed to him by Te’o as part of the school’s own initial look into the situation, Swarbrick stated that Te’o received a call in early December from a number associated with Lennay Kekua — the girlfriend who Te’o had proclaimed to be the love of his life — and with a voice on the other end of the line that sounded like that of Kekua claiming she had not in fact died three months earlier.  Three weeks later, on Dec. 26, Te’o took that information to the Irish coaching staff before it ultimately landed in the hands of a private investigation firm.

A report from that investigative firm was delivered to the University Jan. 4 — three days before the Irish played Alabama for the BCS championship — and forwarded to Te’o and his family. “It… is my understanding that they were on a timetable to release the story themselves next week when today’s story broke,” Swarbrick stated.

The hoax perpetrated by multiple unidentified individuals was so elaborate, Swarbrick explained, that there was even “a place to send flowers” after Kekua’s supposed death.

“There are a remarkable number of characters involved,” the AD explained. “We don’t know how many people they represent. There are male and female characters, brothers, cousins, mother, and we don’t know if it’s two people playing multiple characters or multiple people. But, again, it goes to the sophistication of this, that there are all these sort of independent pieces that reinforce elements of the story all the way through.”

Swarbrick at one point was on the verge of tears, pausing for several seconds to compose himself as he described the “tragedy” of “the single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life.”  That specific exchange was the overriding takeaway from Swarbrick’s surreal press conference, one that shows, right or wrong, the athletic director is standing firmly behind Te’o’s version of what transpired over the past three years.

Despite Swarbrick’s staunch and eloquent and oft-times emotional support of Te’o, there was one nagging question that the AD simply couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.  What was the nature of Te’o’s supposed relationship with Kekua?

“What I will tell you, this was exclusively an online relationship,” Swarbrick said when asked to explain how the Te’o-Kekua pairing came to be.

That, though, doesn’t jibe with an Oct. 12, 2012 article from the South Bend Tribune — an article, incidentally, that was taken offline in the wake of the Deadspin story — that contained these quotes from Te’o’s father.

“They started out as just friends,” Brian Te’o told the Tribune. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.”

A short time later, Swarbrick was asked about when the relationship began and how they met.

“I don’t remember the exact length of time,” Swarbrick said, “but it had it began with an online reaching-out to him that he responded to.”

Again, that falls short of the narrative spun in the Tribune story, which focuses on Te’o and Kekua meeting after the Notre Dame-Stanford game in 2009.

Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.

Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.

Near the end of the press conference, a reporter again pressed Swarbrick on how the relationship between Te’o and Kekua had been portrayed, intimating that it was the player himself who led many to believe that the two had met in 2009 at Stanford.  Essentially, the whole “hoax” claim was again being called into question, and Swarbrick again danced around any type of in-person meeting between the couple.

Q: …I know there have been reports that Manti said he had an initial face to face meeting with his girlfriend at Stanford at some point. What’s going on with that?

JACK SWARBRICK: Again, I’ll let Manti provide the details, but as I said earlier in this press conference, when Manti took me through the entire story from start to finish, when he first described the contact, he used the verb met. For him, the fact that they connected online, that they met online, was consistent with using that verb. Not one that I might have chosen, but it was for him.

How stares get pleasantly tangled or handshakes get exchanged in an initial online connection is, at the moment, the great unknown and will take an explanation from the player himself to unravel that technological mystery.

Speaking of which, Swarbrick suggested during his press conference that Te’o could meet with the media as early as Thursday.  Whether any additional light will be shed on the bizarre situation, or whether Te’o will further bury himself in the court of public opinion, when that inquisition takes place remains to be seen.

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Reportedly transferring from Vols, Ray Raulerson confirms he’s ‘exploring options’

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Thursday, reports surfaced that two Tennessee offensive linemen would be leaving the Volunteers football program and possibly transferring to the FCS level.  Friday, one of those two confirmed he’s looking into it.

Speaking to The Knoxville News Sentinel, Ray Raulerson acknowledged that he’s “exploring options right now,” although he stopped short of confirming a transfer.  However, the redshirt sophomore center talked of his time in Knoxville in the past tense, an indication that he is prepared to move on.

“I’m exploring options right now,” Raulerson told the News Sentinel. “…I really loved it at Tennessee, but I’m going to go to a place where I have a better chance to play.”

Raulerson was a three-star member of UT’s 2014 recruiting class.  After redshirting as a true freshman, he played in five games in 2015.

It has yet to be confirmed that the other lineman, fifth-year senior tackle Dontavius Blair, is indeed transferring.  Raulerson, though, told the newspaper that his teammate is leaving as well.

Clemson tables proposal that would’ve had students paying for some football tickets

CLEMSON, SC - AUGUST 31: Clemson Tigers fans celebrate at the start of the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on August 31, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Students at Clemson can rest easy; your football fix will still be free of charge this year.

In 2015, tickets for the student sections in both the lower bowl and upper bowl of Memorial Stadium came at no cost to those enrolled in classes at the university.  In April, however, athletic director Dan Radakovich proposed levying what was described as a “$225 student donation” for those wishing to sit in the lower bowl on season tickets, while the upper bowl seats would remain free.

Late this past week, tigernet.com reported, Radakovich’s proposal was tabled as the university will “continue to have good conversations with student leaders about the entire ticketing process.”

So, for the 2016 football season, tickets in both bowls will come at no cost to students.  As was the case last year, all of those tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

It wasn’t all good news financially for Clemson students — or their parents — as The State news paper writes that “[t]he university’s board of trustees voted almost unanimously via teleconference Thursday to raise tuition rates for the 2016-17 year for in-state and out-of-state students.”

Separation of UCLA coach Jim Mora, wife of 30-plus years announced in a statement

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Head coach Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins greets players after a third quarter UCLA touchdown against the BYU Cougars at the Rose Bowl on September 19, 2015 in Pasadena, California.  UCLA won 24-23.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Unfortunately, the private life of a major college football coach has once again become laid bare for public consumption.

In a statement released Friday, the agent for UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jimmy Sexton, released a statement confirming that his client and his wife, Shannon, have decided to separate.  The couple have been married for more than 30 years, and have four children — one daughter and three sons.

“After much thought and careful consideration, Jim and Shannon Mora have decided to separate,” the statement from Sexton began. “This was a very difficult decision and they appreciate the respect for their family’s privacy at this time.”

The 54-year-old Mora will be entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Bruins.  Earlier this month, UCLA announced that Mora, 37-16 in his first four seasons with the Bruins, had reached an agreement on a two-year contract extension with the university.

There was no specific word on whether any type of raise was involved in the new agreement, which keeps Mora signed through the 2021 season.

Entire Penn State staff on receiving end of new two-year contracts

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 27:  Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions hugs a police officer after defeating the Boston College Eagles in the 2014 New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on December 27, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Earlier this year, James Franklin saw a pair of key assistant coaches leave his Penn State staff for other jobs.  Fast-forward a few months, and the head coach’s athletic department is looking to provide the program a little more staff stability.

Speaking to area reporters earlier this week, Franklin revealed that every member of his nine-man coaching staff received new two-year contracts this offseason.  Not only that, but other members of the football staff received new deals as well.

“Our entire staff just this summer got (two)-year contracts,” Franklin said Thursday according to the Times Leader. “All of the assistants, their first contracts just ran out. And they all just signed multiple-year, guaranteed contracts. All the strength coaches did. All the administrators. Everybody.”

Arguably the best part, though, at least from Franklin’s point of view?  The new deals also addressed the buyout aspect of contracts, presumably making it harder for a Nittany Lion assistant to jump ship without some type of significant financial penalty.

“That’s really good from a stability standpoint. It’s helpful,” said the coach o the contracts, adding, “and what we did is, it’s both ways. They have the stability and protections, but we have buyouts as well.”

In January, Franklin watched as defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and offensive line coach Herb Hand leave for jobs at Tennessee and Auburn, respectively. And it’s not like the assistants left for promotions; rather, each of the moves involved was, at least in title, lateral ones.

The pay involved in those moves, however, is another matter entirely, something that, along with the buyouts, was likely addressed in the new deals. The financial particulars, though, have yet to be released, although that’s expected at some point in the next month or two.