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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BYU wearing special patch in honor of LaVell Edwards

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BYU got the summer media day fun started on Friday with their football media day. BYU tends to pull out all the stops on its media day with coach and player interviews, alumni returning, and a handful of announcements about the future of the program. In addition to news about their relationship with ESPN, BYU also announced the football team will be sporting a patch this season in honor of the late LaVell Edwards.

In addition to players wearing the patch on their jerseys, BYU coaches will also wear the patch on their sleeves.

Edwards passed away in December at the age of 86. The BYU coaching legend spent 29 seasons on the sidelines in Provo and accumulated 257 wins along the way. Among those was a national championship season in 1984, which remains the most recent national championship to be claimed by a program not currently in a power conference. Edwards took 22 BYU teams to a bowl game.

Now if we can just keep getting BYU to stick to that lighter shade of blue as their main home uniform, we’ll be in great shape.

Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks found guilty of rape

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Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks was convicted by a jury on Friday for rape of a female Vanderbilt student. Following 15 hours of jury deliberations, the verdict of guilty on one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery was in.

”He’s shocked but understands that this is only the first part of this process, there’s a lot more to do from here on,” Banks’ lawyer, Mark Scruggs, said after the verdict. ”We have some really good issues to raise.”

Part of Banks’ defense was built on succumbing to peer pressure, suggesting he feared he may be beaten up by teammates if he did not participate in the scandalous activity. The jury, having reviewed videos and photos from the incident, some of which were shot by Banks, determined that was not a viable defense.

”Making fun of another person is not right, but we know it happens,” Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore said in closing arguments, according to the Associated Press. ”But it doesn’t give you a legal defense to commit a crime, particularly not an aggravated rape, an aggravated sexual battery. I mean if that’s the case, then we’d have the ‘football team defense.”’

Banks will serve a minimum of 15 years in prison. One count of aggravated rape has a minimum sentence of 15 years.

Other former Vanderbilt players had previously been convicted for their roles in the 2013 rape. Cory Batey was found guilty of aggravated rape and sentenced to 15-25 years in prison in April 2016. Brandon Vandenbeurg was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

California’s state-funded travel ban to discriminating states raises mild football scheduling concerns

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The state of California is banning state-funded travel to the states of Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota. Those states are added to the previous state-funded travel bans that included Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee due to what California lawmakers say are laws that allow for discrimination against gay and transgender people.

So what does this have to do with college football? My colleague, Bryan, notes this latest decision from the state means scheduling any potential road games for a handful of schools just got a tad trickier.

This development poses a couple of issues for some California schools to address moving forward.

San Jose State is the school affected by this latest news right off the bat. San Jose State has a road game scheduled at Texas on September 9 this season. San Jose State may have to rely on some of that guaranteed money from Texas to cover the expenses, which would put a dent in the total takeaway from playing the game in the first place.

Cal is also scheduled to play at North Carolina on September 2. Cal also plays at TCU in 2021 and at Auburn in 2024. If the ban is still in operation at those times, then Cal will have to budget ahead of time to tackle the expenses. UCLA will play at Memphis on September 19.

The state-funded travel ban to these states may not be an issue for the postseason, as bowl game expenses tend to be carried by the conference and their revenue shares.

Fresno State has a road game at Texas A&M scheduled in 2020. San Diego State has no future scheduling hassles to worry about for the time being.

When ‘physically, mentally ready,’ door wide open for Keyshawn Johnson Jr.’s return to Nebraska

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has yet to play a down for Nebraska, but, if it’s up to Mike Riley, he will at some point down the road.

Earlier this month, the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  This past week, the younger Johnson decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and will not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

Left open at the time was the question of whether Johnson Jr. would ever play for the ‘Huskers, period.  Friday, Riley left the door wide open for a return.

“We’re disappointed that he’s not here with us right now today,” the head coach said according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “I think there’s kind of a wellness factor for Keyshawn going home. We talked to him about the possibility of maybe enrolling part time and taking care of his progress toward his degree, and also getting in great shape.

“And we opened the door for return, which is just kind of left open that we’ll deal with at the time that he is physically and mentally ready to do that.”

A three-star 2017 signee who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, the younger Johnson had been expected to be an immediate contributor for the Cornhuskers this season.