The photograph suddenly projected on the big screen was startling, and so was the question: "Do you recognize this woman?"
Elliott Mealer gasped. Not because he knew her -- unlike some of his Michigan football teammates, he hadn't seen the woman before -- but because, well, she was "really, really good-looking."
And because a moment later, she walked into the room.
"Some guys were shocked," Mealer said. "It was like, 'Oh, no!'"
And if he still wasn't sure what was going on, the object lesson quickly became apparent when the woman took the microphone and showed a series of photos pulled from the Facebook accounts of several players. They certainly didn't fit the standard preferred by Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who tells players, according to Mealer, "Don't post anything you wouldn't want your grandmother to see."
"Everybody was laughing if it wasn't them (in the photographs)," Mealer recalled, "but I knew it wasn't going to happen anymore."
This was August 2011, long before anyone had heard of former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo's non-existent dead girlfriend, back when "catfishing" still meant dropping a line from a cane pole into the water. But the presentation on social media training -- billed beforehand to Michigan's players as a session that would teach them to build their personal brands for the future -- revealed some players wriggling on the end of the hook.
In preparation for the presentation, a young female employee from 180 Communications asked members of the Michigan football team to "friend" her on Facebook. Several did, which didn't surprise Don Yaeger, a former Sports Illustrated writer who is the firm's president and conducted the training session that day.
"They're college men," Yaeger said. "They look and they see an attractive woman from a state far, far away wanting to be their friend. A high percentage of them accept the request, so the first lesson we're trying to teach them is, 'Don't accept.'"
That lesson has been pressed home recently by the high-profile case of Te'o's online relationship with a person he believed to be a young woman named Lennay Kekua who turned out to be a man. No matter which version of the story you believe, the hoax was stunning and an extreme example of the potential pitfalls of social media -- and perhaps a wake-up call to school officials.
"If there's anything good that can come out of the Te'o situation, weird as it was, it's that a heightened awareness of the damage it could cause, not just to the athlete but to the institution," Yaeger said. "Anybody that thinks Notre Dame didn't suffer because of (the Te'o hoax) is just wrong."
Yeager said interest from potential clients has increased greatly since the Te'o story broke. (Ironically, Yaeger said 180 Communications had worked with Notre Dame before the Te'o story.) Kevin DeShazo, founder of Fieldhouse Media, which like 180 Communications conducts social media training for schools and athletes, said his firm has seen a significant uptick, too.
Consultants such as Yaeger, DeShazo and others emphasize building a personal brand, both now and for the future. Though the schools and firms sometimes differ in approaches -- DeShazo, for example, was leery of the object lesson involving the female 180 employee -- they agree social media has opened up a new set of issues for schools to monitor.
"It is not anonymous," Wichita State athletics director
Eric Sexton said. "We have to continue to coach them up that it isn't anonymous. What they do (on social media) reflects on the school, their coaches and their teammates."
Sexton said Wichita State does not require players to "friend" coaches or other school officials -- other schools do -- and has chosen not to engage in active monitoring. "We're dealing with 18- to 24-year-olds," Sexton said. "We should do everything we can to give them a safety net, but we should treat them like adults."
Michigan and 180 Communications take pains to declare the object lesson they conducted wasn't "catfishing." Although Yaeger said at least one Michigan player tried to communicate with the woman by messaging via Facebook, he said the extent of her involvement with the players was "friending" them and then digging through their posts and photo albums. 180 Communications shared what it found with Michigan athletics officials before doing the presentation to the football team.
"The whole point was to get them to see how easy it was to find the (photographs) and to get them to adjust their behavior," said Yaeger, who added the company did the same thing at Arkansas in 2011, with similar results.
Players including Mealer and former Michigan wide receiver Roy Roundtree said the presentation was effective.
"It was crazy," Roundtree said. "It made us think about things. We've been taught the right things. It made sure we stayed on point. You play at the University of Michigan and you've got that brand of your own you're trying to establish. It was good."