By Tim Graham
A local crisis-control specialist agrees that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o made a proper first step Wednesday by quickly confessing that his dead girlfriend never existed.
But what happens next will determine whether Te'o and the university are effective in handling a scandalous situation or if they botch it.
Critical, unanswered questions about Te'o's and Notre Dame's involvement trouble Stephen Bell, a partner and public affairs director for Eric Mower and Associates, an influential advertising and public-relations agency with an office in Buffalo.
Bell, a former managing editor at The Buffalo News, writes a blog that focuses on crisis management and mismanagement. His journalism and institutional PR expertise won't let him buy innocent victimhood as an excuse for Te'o or Notre Dame just yet.
"But given that Notre Dame was undefeated in the regular season, hadn't had a Heisman candidate since Tim Brown 25 years ago and desperately needed the attention of success," Bell wrote, "one has to wonder if we've heard everything there is to this story."
So much is at stake for Te'o -- possibly millions of dollars -- and Notre Dame.
"Because for Te'o and Notre Dame, there could be nothing worse than an embarrassed and humiliated set of sports reporters who swallowed the touching story of Te'o's beloved's death," Bell wrote. "They will dig now with a vengeance."
Bell compared the unfolding dramas around Te'o and disgraced Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong's confession to Oprah Winfrey will air today and now seems like a stale storyline next to Te'o fresh and salacious tale of deception.
Bell wrote Armstrong's confession is tantamount to "playing his last card," while Te'o's saga merely is beginning.
"Notre Dame of course wants to believe that Te'o was the hoax victim, not the hoax perpetrator," Bell wrote. "The risk is that if some in the ND football program knew the truth and allowed the myth to play out in an effort to build ardor for Te'o's Heisman chances, then the guillotine will fall on ND football."