So, a confrontation for the BCS Championship between snarling, sweaty, behemoths has been overshadowed by girlfriends.

And Alabama wins decisively again.

AJ’s McCarron’s squeeze was alive — and real.

Manti Te’o’s was some kind of an illusion, a character in a phantom soap opera of sorts that furnished a captivating sidestory Wednesday to the trials and tribulations of Lance Armstrong.

Te’o told the media that Lennay Kekua was his girlfriend who died of leukemia that was discovered after an automobile accident. Shortly before she died, she supposedly gave a modern online version of the “Win One for the Gipper” instruction to Te’o in informing him to play on, despite her death, before a big game with Michigan State.

The story turned out to be a phony — football’s version of the Mayan calendar.

She vanished before our eyes, a wonderful storyline (her dying six hours after of Te’o’s grandmother) like a David Copperfield act.

It now seems Te’o had as much direct contact with his alleged girlfriend as he did with Alabama running backs.

This tale of a fraudulent tale — and I’m sure we’ve not heard all elements yet — leaves more questions that answers.

Did someone pull a major hoax on Te’o, like he and Notre Dame officials claim? Or was this a publicity stunt by Te’o to gain more publicity for Notre Dame and possibly his Heisman hopes? (Note: I, and other Heisman voters I know) vote based on performance on the field and not Hallmark movie potential.

Was it a trap to try to set up an NCAA violation? Was it a concocted story by Te’o as a red herring for other aspects of his life?

What bothered me most was how this phantom story of death took life.

The story left some of the most revered media companies in this country with egg in their keyboards and ink wells. It was uncovered and broken by a website called “Deadspin.”

The heartwarming, dying girlfriend story that was reported by more traditional media was surrounded by red flags, some low-hanging fruit for even novice journalists, much less investigative ones. There was no obit. The date of death varied in media reports by as much as four days. There was apparently no official record of Kekua’s existence, no record she was ever a Stanford student. No graduation record. No hospital records. No media organization seemed to attempt to tell the back story of fill in the blanks, such as talk to her parents, fellow students, Stanford professors and tell the full story about the relationship between Kekua and the Heisman Trophy candidate who was instrumental in a victory over Stanford.

We’ll leave the mystery to unravel over time.

A exercise in a journalism reporting class in college came to mind.

Professor David McHam brought a person, who he said was was a former student who worked for the FBI to his reporting class and had him tell stories. He told great stories of raids, of investigations, of experiences with J. Edgar Hoover, of a part in the Kennedy Assassination. The assignment was to write a feature story on the class appearance. With the richness and captivating nature of the stories to choose from, everybody felt they had turned in an A-plus story.

Imagine the surprises and gasps when everyone got an F.

The exciting stories were not what the professor was looking for. He was evaluating truth.

The FBI friend with all the dandy tales was indeed a former student but did not work for the FBI and his stories were part of a big hoax to teach us the lesson of the day.

“Why didn’t anybody in the class ask the simple question of ‘Do you really work for the FBI?’ or attempted to check out and confirm that he did?” said the teacher. Or a basic questions good reporters often ask, “Is there something I should have asked you but didn’t?”

The teaching moment was that many people have agendas and often tell reporters what they want to hear — the timeless method of not letting facts get in the way of a good story. The lesson was drilled home to always be skeptical of information and to exhaust every mean to establish truth, that part of reporting is to shine a light into shadows.

Many reporters at ranking media organization were stung by that pointed lesson Wednesday. The full story was apparently out there and waiting for the truth squad. And many apparently fumbled.

Lesson re-learned. It can happen.

It’s interesting Manti Te’o broke the day after I had participated in a mandatory online course of social media security. Part of the course gave case studies of how some of the most respected business companies in America, with the most modern technical equipment with heightened security softball, had been duped by clever hackers armed with slick online tricks.

In this day of mass media when anyone can be an instant reporter, being duped can happen to the best.
But if what happened to Te’o was indeed a hoax and the perpetrator is found, here’s what I would do.

I would place him an a law enforcement agency and have him use his skills to locate and capture online sexual predators.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)