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Did Michigan 'catfish' its own players?

The next Manti Te'o scandal isn't going to happen at the University of Michigan.

At least, not if athletic director Dave Brandon has anything to do with it.

Speaking in Toledo on Friday morning, Brandon reportedly said that the Michigan athletic department "catfished" a few of its own players in an attempt to demonstrate the potential pitfalls of social media. The term "catfishing" refers to taking the online persona of an attractive woman in order to lure gullible men into what they think are serious relationships.

According to Kyle Rowland, a writer for ElevenWarriors.com who attended Brandon's speech, Michigan had an attractive female contact several players using social media. After seeing some of the athletes respond in what he considered "inappropriate" ways, Brandon called them in for a meeting, including a surprise appearance by the woman with whom they had been interacting.

Brandon did not name any of the players involved and did not mention any disciplinary action that would be taken against them, but he did say the Facebook comments were 'wholly inappropriate', according to ElevenWarriors.com. Instead, he stressed to his athletes how easy it can be to get caught up by a sweet-talking new friend with a gorgeous profile picture.

However, a conflicting report appeared in CrainsDetroit.com on Friday, where David Ablauf, Michigan's associate athletic director, said the school did not 'catfish' anyone.

According to the report, the athletic department has a contract with a media consulting company 180 Communications Inc., based in Tallahassee, Fla., to instruct student athletes on the dangers of social media. A female 180 Communications staff member interacts with athletes on Facebook and Twitter, Ablauf said.

Ablauf added that while the staffer collects potential embarrassing or damaging information, there was limited to no real interaction with athletes.

"She would go through their accounts and find stuff that was either in inappropriate for the public or could be misconstrued," Ablauf said.

During a presentation in the fall, the athletes were told what happened.

"As part of their presentation, they introduce her. A lot of our student athletes couldn't believe it because they knew her," Ablauf said. "We would explain to them how what they put out there could do damage to them personally and the Michigan brand."

The presentations were first done in 2011 with the football team and both men's and women's basketball teams, but this past fall, all 900 student athletes took part, Ablauf said.

Michigan football coach Brady Hoke addressed the social media issue in January while speaking to a group high school football coaches.

"Before he (Brandon) came in, we gave him 20 Facebook accounts of guys on our team," said Hoke, according to a report in MLive.com. "He had his assistant -- she tried to talk to our guys. 'Hey, what are ya doin'?' Whatever it might be.

"Well, two months later we're in a team meeting and we're on the topic of what you put out there in the cyber universe ... you should have seen 115 guys when that young lady -- she was hot, now; a very, very nice looking young lady -- when she walked into that meeting room, and the guys looking at each other."

Although money doesn't seem to have been Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's motive for convincing Te'o that he was really Lennay Kekua, the scam is often used to get the victim to provide cash or other valuable presents to his mythical girlfriend.

While Te'o's story got national headlines because of the way it was used to hype his Heisman Trophy campaign, only to then turn out to be based entirely on lies, the problem is common with athletes. Four Washington Redskins players were duped by a different online persona during the football season, and a quick look on Twitter will show you that many athletes are happy to follow accounts based just on a skimpy wardrobe and a flirty bio.

Brandon's trick might have embarrassed the athletes who fell for online flirtations, but if it keeps them from being humiliated on a national basis, he'll feel that the unusual move paid off.

National News

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