SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A story that Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's girlfriend had died of leukemia -- a loss he said inspired him to help lead the Irish to the BCS championship game -- was dismissed by the university Wednesday as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick says his faith has not been shaken in Te'o "one iota."
Swarbrick says an investigation by a firm the school hired has convinced him that Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose death was then faked by the perpetrators of the hoax.
"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," he said in statement.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
"In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was."
The university said its coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te'o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax.
Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," the school said.
The university said "the proper authorities" are investigating a "very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators." Notre Dame would not exactly who was investigating the case.
The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Te'o's grandmother and a friend had died. Te'o didn't miss the game. He said Kekua had told him not to miss a game if she died. Te'o turned in one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 victory in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish's undefeated regular season.
The linebacker's father, Brian Te'o, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in early October that he and his wife had never met Kekua, saying they were hoping to meet her at the Wake Forest game in November. The father said he believed the relationship was just beginning to get serious when she died.