One of the most successful college football programs in history is coached by one of the most insecure men in America, apparently. This combination of success and neediness has resulted in one of the weirdest forms of location tracking in government history. (via Slashdot)
[Nick] Saban, the Alabama football coach, has long been peeved that the student section at Bryant-Denny Stadium empties early. So this season, the university is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter — with an alluring prize: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season.
But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays.
Yes, this is all voluntary, but it’s entirely unique to the University of Alabama. As the team blows out early season creampuffs, Coach Saban wants to see the stands full of bored students dressed in crimson and tied to their seats by an app that will take students out of prime ticket consideration if they choose to do something more worthwhile with their time.
The app comes from a software developer that has created apps for several universities. But Alabama’s app is one of a kind.
The creator of the app, FanMaker, runs apps for 40 colleges, including Clemson, Louisiana State and Southern California, which typically reward fans with gifts like T-shirts. The app it created for Alabama is the only one that tracks the locations of its students.
To boil things down to a concerning reduction, a publicly-funded university used public funds to purchase an app that tracks students’ location. The app can be deleted at any time and only tracks students while they’re in the stadium, but leaving the stadium and/or ditching the app sends students to the back of the line for tickets to games that actually matter, like conference championship games featuring the omnipresent Alabama.
What’s also weird is that the reward for fourth quarter attendance — 250 points — is roughly equivalent to the points earned for 2.5 credit hours, showing how meaningful the university considers fourth quarter attendance in meaningless games.
The app is apparently popular with students, so much so that the school’s home opener crashed the server, forcing students to become their own surveillers to prove they had stayed all the way to the end of the 62-10 “contest.”
The stadium’s network servers were overwhelmed by the number of fans in the student section, which seats 17,000 — slightly more than half the student body. That meant that many students were unable to open their apps, leading to long lines at several help kiosks and students taking photos with the scoreboard in the background to prove they had stayed.
Loyalty matters. It apparently matters more than student safety (the temperature was near 100 degrees for most of the game). That’s changing. The university has decided to alter the terms of its surveillance to allow for weather-related early exits. That’s not sitting well with Coach Saban who would apparently rather have the student section filled with lifeless bodies than see students exiting a game that ceased to be competitive shortly after kickoff.
“Everybody wants to be the beast, but they don’t want to do what the beast do,” Saban said afterward. “So everybody’s got to make a sacrifice. I mean, you want to be the lion?”
He was just getting warmed up.
“Everybody’s got to do something,” he continued. “Everybody wants to be No. 1. If I asked that whole student section, ‘All right, you want to be No. 1?’ Nobody would put their hand up and say, ‘I want to be No. 4.’ They’d all say we want to be No. 1. But are they willing to do everything to be No. 1? That’s another question. Ask them that. I don’t know the answer.”
At this point, it’s maybe time to discuss the separation of church and state. The publicly-funded college shouldn’t be pressuring students to attend something Coach Saban clearly considers to be a religious event.
Read more: techdirt.com