University Of Alabama Is Using A Location-Tracking App To Punish Students For Leaving Football Games Early

from the surveillance-state-perks dept

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.

Filed Under: attendance, football games, location tracking
Companies: university of alabama


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  1. icon
    murgatroyd (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 7:43am

    Feature creep?

    The app can be deleted at any time and only tracks students while they're in the stadium

    For now, at least. How long until someone finds a "good reason" to expand its use, or mandate its installation, do you suppose?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    hij (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 8:04am

    Recruiting is the "beast" in NCAA football

    Like many things in NCAA football this can likely be traced back to recruiting. Coach Saban wants to bring in potential recruits and show them how passionate the fan base is, and he can demonstrate how they are willing to show up to see meaningless contests that allow his team to rest up for games that matter. This just completes the circle allowing a multi-multi-millionaire dictate to and benefit from the efforts of students who have little choice.

    For more fun and games look up instances of coaches complaining and whining that players are sometimes allowed to transfer and that "kids today" have no sense of loyalty. Not only do some coaches want the power to control others they want those people to think they have some perverse obligation to accept their position in life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 8:39am

    That's just sad. Telling, but sad

    If you have to bribe people to come to your games by offering them tickets to games they actually do want to go to, that's a pretty good indicator that your games aren't worth coming to for their own merits, and if you're willing to rag on people for not wanting to sit in 100 degree weather to watch games they already don't care about you may need to see a psychologist for an unhealthy obsession.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 9:51am

    And how long before the number of attendees tracked by the app exceeds the attendance measured by the gate. A spare phone and a willing pocket............

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    kennova (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 9:53am

    Thean treat me like a player too

    His rhetoric about being number one and "do what the beast do" (is that supposed to say best?) rings hollow. The players stay the whole game in that heat, he's right, but they also have water literally brought to their mouths, a medical staff to take care of any issues including weather-related issues (hot or cold), etc.. I promise you that if a player was suffering from heat stroke they would leave the game. What an egotistical blowhard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 9:53am

    Maybe I'm Ferengi but...

    I see this as a great money making opportunity. For $5 each, a student can take several phones to the games.

    Or even better, get an Android phone with multiple users and just log in to each person's account one at a time.

    Imagine the coaches dismay when he sees just 30 tech nerds in the stands furiously swapping phones in the fourth quarter, but the app insists that every student was in attendance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:11am

    Re: That's just sad. Telling, but sad

    I don't really have a problem with them doing this. It feels a little like when movies have a post-credits scene.

    Coach Saban clearly considers to be a religious event

    Have you ever been to Alabama? It is a religious event attended by true believers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:16am

    Re: Maybe I'm Ferengi but...

    Or forget the game, and just fake the location data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:18am

    So, they want a bunch of college-age students to be cramped all together and be hot and bored, with some of them intoxicated from pre-gaming? If they're bored, college students can and will find ways of entertaining themselves.
    I don't think there's any way this could go wrong. /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:18am

    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

    So people who presumably leave because they're dragged there in the name of school spirit and peer pressure who aren't interested in football are being motivated to stay with... more football?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:19am

    Re:

    People are already saying that you're going to see a lot of freshman frat pledges carrying a few dozen phones on them at games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:51am

    end of tracking?

    why think tracking mysteriously ends at the stadium gate?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    2nd person who finds Trudeau's hair very menacing, 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:54am

    Not rewarding is NOT punishing.

    Can you EVER not totally SLANT to clickbait headline?

    Then you go on about the rigors of 100 degree heat! Sheesh! Players are in it and highly active TOO, ya know? Not just sitting. -- I have WORKED OUTDOORS ALL DAY in full summer sun. Not a problem thanks to my African heritage. Maybe for you lily-white weenies who've never actually labored.


    Do you know that are some actual TECH topics on Drudge Report right now? ANY of which is more interesting than this?

    Notorious drug dealer sets up YOUTUBE account -- from jail!

    Health fears prompt Swiss 5G revolt...

    Socials removing 'violent' content faster...

    Gov't Collects Almost Everything About Everyone Entering USA...

    SMART FAUCETS, TOILETS USE ALEXA TO LISTEN TO CONVERSATIONS...

    Smart TVs leaking your data...

    AMAZON's Answer to Gun Violence: Ban Ads for Books About Ending Gun Violence...

    Streaming War Spurs Classic TV Arms Race...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:56am

    Re: Not rewarding is NOT punishing.

    You're an idiot and not worth the time to respond to your word salad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 10:58am

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 11:21am

    Re: Not rewarding is NOT punishing.

    You have a link to your amazing blog where you superior editorial skills has enables you to concentrate on the important topics of the day, or is this just another case of you demanding that other people do what you want, while you sit back and complain?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Gary (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 11:27am

    Re: Trolling is NOTreporting

    Oh hey good points. Obviously the bigger issue is your endorsement of Corporate Rights. Please explain again why Corporations should get the right of ceonsorship given to them by the government via copyright laws?

    Laws that most people don't benefit from or endorse?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    WarioBarker (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 11:48am

    At this rate, why not make attending these games mandatory for all students with expulsion for those who don't attend or leave early?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Pixelation, 18 Sep 2019 @ 12:10pm

    Re:

    Sold out, yet the stands are half empty...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    ECA (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Feature creep?

    Thats how 1 app works, among TONS that do about the same..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 12:54pm

    games that actually matter

    Oxymoron detected.

    Sorry, I can't generate any concern over whatever conditions they may put on attending extracurricular entertainment. If you couldn't delete the app between games, maybe I could be persuaded to give a shit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 1:52pm

    Just turn off location information on your phone, so you cannot be tracked. All android phones can do that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Feature creep?

    If they mandate its installation, just use a data jammer while at the game.

    There are jammers that can jam data, but not voice. They will.have no idea your are deploying a jammer. To the monitoring station, it will look like a malfunction.

    Jamming voice is illegal, but jamming data is not.

    Someone around here is using a bluetooth jammer, because my new roommate's bluetooth disconnects, and he can't reconnect.

    Jamming data, like bluetooth is not illegal in the USA, so he just has to live with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Lairs gonna lie

    Great story ideas bro. Where’s the link to your super awesome totally unmoderated blog?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 4:50pm

    Re: Re: Feature creep?

    That's completely wrong. Jamming of any radio signal is illegal, there are no exceptions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 4:51pm

    Re:

    You could also, and I know this is a stretch, not install the app.

    By the way... You can turn off location data but you cannot turn off cell site connection data which can be used to triangulate your position with surprising accuracy as long as your phone is turned on and not in airplane mode. Though app vendors can't track you anyone with a badge still can.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Feature creep?

    Mangement here says they cannot do anything about is unless voice communications are jammd.

    What has happened here a few times is that parents will jam wireless data on their kids' cellphones to keep them off their phones at dinner time.

    Management here does not seem to have a problem with folks who jam 1x,2g,3g,4g,5g, Wifi, Wimax and bluetooth signals. They told me they cannot do anything unless celluar voice calls get jammed.

    There was even a manager here, a few years, who did that, to keep her kids off their cell phone internet during dinner. She flat old told me, at that time, and it was only illegal for her jam voice calls on celluar, and it was legal for her to jam her kids's celluar internet, and to jam Wifi, so they could not connect to Wifi signals in other apartments. The Wifi in my apartment got jammed when they were having told, and she told me that as long as she was not jamming cellular voice calls, which she was not, she was not breaking any laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:23pm

    Re: Re:

    Then you just turn the phone off and take out the battery, so your phone is not on the grid. No battery = they can't track you.

    And doing that does not break any laws.

    You can do that for tracking devices in cars. When some asshole was pranking me 4 years ago and really had me believing that cops had a tracker in my car, when they did not, that did cause me to pull out the fuse to the radio, since any tracking device put in is going the use the accessory fuse that the radio does, as it has to go on when the key goes on and off when the key goes off.

    It turned out that it was a spoof call that someone made to try and con me on several level.

    But even if any LEO really had put a tracking device in my car, pulling out the accessory fuse to cut off its power would not have broken any laws. There is no federal law, or any law in the 50 states that makes it illegal to pull out the accessory fuse to disable any tracking devices that any investigators installed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Glenn, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:36pm

    I used to respect Alabama football--ever since Bear Bryant. But now they've become whiner-baby losers, plus there's this. The lack of class exhibited by the football regime there is disheartening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:49pm

    Re: Re: That's just sad. Telling, but sad

    How apt. Just like many forced to stay by social or authoritative pressure in other religions and religionesqe enterprises. Good point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:51pm

    Re: Thean treat me like a player too

    Sit on yo ass like a beast! Cheer like a beast! Be number 1! Also, avail yourself of our fine concessions and apparel like a beast.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Feature creep?

    That's "don't take legal advice from the opposition" territory. The FCC takes jammers seriously, and has issued fines and confiscated devices in many cases.
    https://www.fcc.gov/general/jammer-enforcement
    https://transition.fcc.gov/eb/jammerenforcemen t/fccdhssj.pdf

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:52pm

    Call me Deacon Blues.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 5:56pm

    Re:

    African heritage

    Yeah, you're not fooling anyone blue. Your persistent Trumpsucking begs to differ.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Canuck, 18 Sep 2019 @ 6:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Feature creep?

    Transmitting on licensed frequencies you're not licensed for is illegal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 Sep 2019 @ 6:36pm

    Re:

    You might want to read the article before posting in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 8:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Feature creep?

    Yep, or creating intentional interference on unlicensed frequencies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2019 @ 8:43pm

    Re:

    Well, not just that. From the article:

    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.

    To be honest, I had to reread the article because it also stated that the app was so popular among students, they crashed the site where they could download it. In retrospect it was probably obvious that tying watching meatheads toss a ball around to academic performance would be the only way to motivate otherwise disinterested, diverse students to all come together and celebrate middle school jocks.

    The coach treating showing up to waste time for a couple of hours (instead of, you know, working on other worthwhile/probably critical academic pursuits) as some noble, loyal sacrifice is also pretty fucked in the head. No, dumbass, not everyone wants to be the damn beast. Sitting in the stands for an outcome I have no control or meaningful influence over is not a significant "sacrifice" by any stretch of the imagination. If your players' performance is tied to their emotional motivation based on how many people are there to also risk heatstroke, no amount of solidarity-based morale is going to help you make significant progress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. icon
    Manabi (profile), 19 Sep 2019 @ 12:04am

    Re:

    I've never been a fan of football, but I was in the marching band so I've been to a lot of football games. That includes the games at The University of Tennessee, in the same conference as Alabama. I know what it's like to be at a game from beginning to end, both the good games and the bad games.

    The problem isn't a lack of school spirit, or not bending to peer pressure. The real issue is that one-sided games are incredibly boring. I've been to games like that where it would have been more entertaining watching the grass being mowed. If it's clear the team's going to win easily, by the third quarter they start putting in non-starters. It's not at all unusual to have players out there in the fourth quarter that won't get another chance to play all season, because they aren't good enough to do so yet. They might become better and be a starter before they graduate, so the playtime is valuable for their development, but it's rarely interesting to watch them play at that stage.

    With games like that it's not just the students who leave early, even a lot of season-ticket holders will leave early. It's simply not worth watching the insanely boring spectacle on the field when you can leave early and avoid a lot of the gridlock that happens after the game. You'll get home sooner, or get to a restaurant to have a meal before they're all packed, etc.

    A competitive game between even middle school teams can be entertaining to watch, a mismatch of college teams that results in Alabama winning by 52 points... isn't.

    That's what is going on here, the students are being bribed with tickets to good, exciting games in exchange for risking heat stroke to stay in the stands and being bored to death.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. icon
    Manabi (profile), 19 Sep 2019 @ 12:11am

    Re: Re:

    It's not tied to academic performance, they get additional points based on the number of credit hours they've taken toward their degrees:

    The Tide Loyalty Points program works like this: Students, who typically pay about $10 for home tickets, download the app and earn 100 points for attending a home game and an additional 250 for staying until the fourth quarter. Those points augment ones they garner mostly from progress they have made toward their degrees — 100 points per credit hour. (A regular load would be 15 credits per semester, or 1,500 points.)

    Staying until the fourth quarter nets you as many points as 3.5 credit hours worth of classes. (100 for attending, 250 extra for staying until the fourth quarter.) It takes an entire semester to earn those points, whereas you can get the game ones in one day. (Plus the class requires at least three hours a week of class time, as well as homework, tests, projects or papers and maybe lab time.) For students that desperately want to see the championship games, it's easy to see the draw.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Bruce C., 19 Sep 2019 @ 2:24am

    Respect for student safety?

    Fans sitting in 100 F heat?

    "But what about the players?"

    If UofA (and any other college) was really concerned about student safety, they wouldn't have a football program in the first place, let alone one that plays in 100-degree heat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. icon
    Éibhear (profile), 19 Sep 2019 @ 3:39am

    Take a number

    If all students who want to be in with a chance were to just take a ticket as they enter the stadium, write their contact details on it, and then deposit into the box that opens only at the end of the match as they leave, would the goal (as pathetic as it is) not also be met?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 20 Sep 2019 @ 5:50am

    End-times nutters, come forth!

    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.

    I await the advent of the mad conspiracy theorists who have an absolute fit at the thought of people being tagged. I honestly can't see much of a difference between this and the 70's "Barcodes will be tattooed on your head" scare.

    Didn't they go nuts at the idea of microchips being implanted in people?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 20 Sep 2019 @ 5:54am

    Re: End-times nutters, come forth!

    Ah, I've noticed this:

    In retrospect it was probably obvious that tying watching meatheads toss a ball around to academic performance would be the only way to motivate otherwise disinterested, diverse students to all come together and celebrate middle school jocks.

    I really hope this doesn't give unmerited qualifications to dimwits. I've had it up to here with idiots being in charge of important things as it is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. identicon
    Mayson Lancaster, 22 Sep 2019 @ 11:54am

    Surely there will be some enterprising students who will hold their peers phones through the fourth quarter for a slight monetary reward…

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2019 @ 8:11pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah... this still doesn't help the university or coach's case. Do they seriously think every kid can afford burning time watching non-essential games? The slipping importance of grades and degrees aside, how good does the university think "I spent several days worth of hours watching people throw a ball around" is going to look on anyone's resume?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2019 @ 8:27pm

    Re: Re: End-times nutters, come forth!

    It gets my goat that in a time where youngsters are getting hammered for being in an increasingly competitive market, constantly exhorted to "upskill" and "upgrade" to "value add" to their resumes with "transferrable skills", we still give such a huge focus on athletic performance.

    Sporting is something that requires significant investment from Day 1 to squeeze out as much as possible from an individual, is insanely competitive just like academia - but outside of nebulous concepts such as "character" and "teamwork" (the latter of which is laughable when you consider the peer dynamics of jocks), has basically no "transferrable" skills. But we still burn thousands of dollars in money and time to celebrate a few individuals whose biggest plus was to get born with physically preferable genetics.

    As for the unmerited qualifications to dimwits, Wendy... I think the recent college scandals answer your queries. Sports are a shoo-in to get dimwits qualified for anything, because... hell knows why. It's what makes the coach's remarks on "sacrifice" all the more galling. A jock in university is expected to have lower prerequisites on the academic side because of the "sacrifices" he's made due to training and game time. He's already covered. Why does that suddenly behoove a non-jock to sacrifice her crucial coursework time?

    I think I'll conclude with a quote from Matthew Inman's comic on senior year:

    "Up until now the social structure in our school has taught you that the number of friends you have depends on your ability to play sports. But after high school, that means fuck all. Instead, the number of friends you have is determined by how likable of a human being you are. Furthermore, those of you who are weird now will most likely be the most interesting later. Point is: if you're popular now, know that someday your luster will fade. And unless you till a garden, no one will like you. You'll wind up alone, working some job where you get to feel like a teenage jock again, a job where you can assert control over the meek."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. identicon
    Timothy Lyall, 15 Nov 2019 @ 5:06am

    A very convenient application for students, you can track whether they are at a football match or not. Also, students often need to write research papers, you can buy research papers on this site papersowl.com, I hope this will be a useful experience for you and you will save your time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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