It's not a big story because of WHAT happened; it's a big story because of WHO was involved. If you followed the Heisman race closely, you would know Manti got 2nd for that award and won several others for no reason other than he is a good guy with more integrity and character than anyone else. His stats and other measurables were barely better than average, and his skills as a LB aren't that special. The only thing that set him apart was his "role model" persona. And that persona was built solely on the back of the dead girlfriend/love story and how it inspired his play. If this had happened to anyone else at all, it wouldn't be as big of a story.
The original news that broke about this catfish thing made it sound like he had concocted this entire thing himself. If that's the case, everything we thought about Manti Teo being the greatest guy on earth would be a lie. In fact, he'd be the opposite of the greatest guy on earth.
But if it turns out that Manti was purely a victim who was tricked into a false online relationship and then exaggerated a few details of the relationship to his buddies which eventually snowballed once the media picked it up, it's really not that much of a deal. But if he was the mastermind or at least was involved from the beginning of this plot to build sympathy and support, then he is evil.
There's no doubt he lied along the way. But it's very plausable that everything about the relationship was real to him. Perhaps he was a little embarrassed about the fact that he'd never actually seen her face to face, so he made up a couple of white lies about meeting her. I can totally see that happening actually. But then again, there are still lots and lots of holes in this story that just don't make any sense...and nobody other than Manti and the others directly involved know the truth...and that's what makes it so fascinating.