The fervor that students who attend SEC schools have for their respective football programs is so well known that it’s become cliché for religious comparisons to be made. But for University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, that level of fandom has just not been cutting it lately, and he’s gone so far as to repeatedly call out his team’s fan base for not showing up to the early season thrashings of nonconference opponents like New Mexico State, who the Crimson Tide defeated 62-10 this past Saturday. In the hopes of appeasing arguably the most powerful man in the state, the school worked towards what they believed would be a mutually beneficial solution for both Saban and students at Alabama—all for the low, low cost of those students’ privacy.
During the team’s home opener against New Mexico State*, the university rolled out the Tide Loyalty Points app. How it works is that it uses location-tracking technology on the phones of students to see who ends up going to games, and how long they stay for. Those who have the app then check in to games to get an initial batch of points, and receive more the longer they end up staying. Those who accumulate the most points well have a better chance at securing SEC championship, and College Football Playoff tickets.
Of course, not everyone is okay with this kind of trade-off. One student that the New York Times spoke to said the app was “kind of like Big Brother,” while a lawyer from a privacy watchdog group also expressed serious concern.
“Why should packing the stadium in the fourth quarter be the last time the government wants to know where students are?” [Adam] Schwartz said, adding that it was “inappropriate” to offer an incentive for students to give up their privacy. “A public university is a teacher, telling students what is proper in a democratic society.”
Countering these claims was Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne, who told the Times that privacy concerns just never came up during talks with student groups and university departments—as if either would have the gall to stand up to the guy who’s Saban’s boss. Byrne also decided to defend the app with the argument that the tracking was fine because phones are already constantly being tracked.
“If anybody has a phone, unless you’re in airplane mode or have it off, the cellular companies know where you are,” he said.
Beyond the privacy issues, health and safety concerns also arose as a result of this app. During Saturday’s game against New Mexico State, temperatures hit the triple-digits, and nearby medics were apparently kept busy with the amount of people they ended up having to treat. Logically, it would make sense for students to get out of the heat and find a cool place to get hydrated instead of staying at the game, but it’s not quite that simple at a school where football is one of the main sources of social clout. As a result, some dedicated fans might have felt compelled to stay out in the blistering weather so that they can get the points necessary for coveted postseason tickets, hydration be damned. (This issue has been fixed, according to the Times, as students who check-in during unsafe weather conditions will get full-game points).
But none of these issues seem to matter to Saban, who addressed the student section on Saturday as if they were a group of his players that needed to pick up the damn slack around here.
“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?”
“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.”
Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t quite as willing to go as long when privacy concerns were brought up in his postgame presser, instead giving the Belichick-like response of “That’s not my cup of tea. I’m trying to figure out how to stop Snag Seven Flat.”