In the days following the BCS championship game, there was significant internal debate at Notre Dame about when to go public with the revelation that star linebacker Manti Te'o's girlfriend was a hoax, Yahoo! Sports has learned.
Some administrators were pressing for a unilateral public disclosure by the school, while others wanted to let Te'o himself make the stunning news public, the source said. Notre Dame officials were in contact with Te'o's agent, Tom Condon of Creative Artists Agency, and were told the Heisman Trophy runner-up planned to release his version of events Monday. 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 on Wednesday afternoon.
"Their plan was Monday," the source said. "In hindsight, we shouldn't have given them that time."
A call and email from Yahoo! Sports to Condon were not immediately returned Thursday.
The website reported that Lennay Kekua, widely reported to be Te'o's late girlfriend who died of leukemia in September, never existed. The story became the most compelling narrative of the college football season, with Te'o a willing party to it by discussing his relationship with Kekua.
Te'o and Notre Dame now say he was the victim of the hoax, not a perpetrator of it. But the school's delay meant it had to react to the Deadspin report instead of proactively announcing it.
Despite failing to get in front of the story, a source said Notre Dame officials were certain it would become public knowledge.
"There was never a belief in any quarter that it wouldn't get told," the source said.
The hoax started coming to light in early December, according to sources.
While attending the ESPN college football awards show in Orlando, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Te'o got a call from the phone number he had associated with Kekua. Te'o was deeply disturbed by the call and suspected it was Kekua's purported sister. Although Te'o's parents were with him in Orlando, he did not inform them of the call, a source said.
The person kept calling and saying it was Lennay herself, and over the course of 10 days Te'o engaged the woman in several conversations.
"He was asking questions only Lennay would know," said the source, adding that phone records show multiple calls between Te'o and that number.
By the time first-semester classes were over at Notre Dame, Te'o was convinced Lennay Kekua was a hoax, the source said. He went home to Hawaii for Christmas and told his mother about it on Christmas Eve. The day after Christmas, he informed defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, head coach Brian Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick. Upon returning to campus, Te'o met with Notre Dame officials on Dec. 27 and told them he had never met his girlfriend.
That obviously ran counter to public comments Te'o had made, including a South Bend Tribune story that ran earlier in the season. Te'o's father, Brian, also was quoted several times in the media about his son meeting Lennay.
"That's pretty much Brian Te'o," a source said. "He's a great guy, but he loves to add color."
Brian Te'o couldn't be reached for comment.
An IMG employee told Yahoo! Sports' Eric Adelson that Te'o is at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., on Thursday, where he is preparing for the upcoming NFL draft.
The school initially looked into whether the alleged hoax was a potential criminal act. When told it was not, it hired a private investigative firm to do some digging. The BCS championship game against Alabama in Miami Gardens loomed Jan. 7.
"While apprised by that investigative firm of their work along the way, we received a final report from them on January 4th," Swarbrick said in his press conference Wednesday night. "I met with Brian and Ottilia Te'o in Miami on the 5th to share with them the essence of those findings. We left that meeting with an understanding that they would think about what they had heard, engaged Manti's future representation, which would be determined later in the week, in consultation as to how to best respond, and keep the university fully informed of their intentions and work in concert with us when they were ready to communicate the story.
"It was my understanding – is my understanding that they were on a timetable to release the story themselves next week when today's story broke."
According to a source, Te'o lacked his usual spirited demeanor in the days leading up to the championship game. He played very poorly, missing a high number of tackles.
"He wasn't the same spark in the locker room," a source said. "He was a different kid wearing the same number."
More Manti Te'o hoax coverage on Yahoo! Sports: