But Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy watchdog, said it was “very alarming” that a public university — an arm of the government — was tracking its students’ whereabouts.
“Why should packing the stadium in the fourth quarter be the last time the government wants to know where students are?” 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.”
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. That Alabama would want it is an example of how even a powerhouse program like the Crimson Tide is not sheltered from college football’s decline in attendance, which sank to a 22-year low last season.
The Tide Loyalty Points program works like this: Students 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.)
The rollout during Alabama’s home opener did not go very well.
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.
“It’s like Wheel of Fortune,” said Giuseppe Rallo, a senior from LaGrange, Ill., displaying the spinning icon on his phone, signifying that his app was not loading.
And the carrot of prized tickets had only a marginal influence on students staying in their seats, as the heat sent dozens to find shelter in the concourses and thousands heading to the exit before halftime, when Alabama led, 38-0. So many students were using fans that the student section looked like Aspen leaves rustling in the wind.