BYU doesn’t have to play on Sundays. So should the NCAA better accommodate Muslim athletes during Ramadan?

Long Beach State coach Dan Monson points to the NCAA’s considerations for the Cougars as a guide for accommodating Muslim players during their holy month.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars center Aly Khalifa (50) looks for a shot as Kansas State Wildcats forward Will McNair Jr. (13) defends, in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Kansas State Wildcats, at the Marriott Center, on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024.

Long Beach State coach Dan Monson thinks if BYU gets a religious exemption to not play on Sunday, his team should’ve been afforded a similar accommodation this month.

One of Monson’s players, Aboubacar Traore, is fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It means he cannot eat or drink from sunrise to sundown. If a game falls during daylight hours, Traore has to play without food or water.

Monson believes the NCAA should to allow teams with players fasting to play later in the day.

“I think if they can make concessions for BYU on what days they can [play] for their religion, then they can make concessions” for players fasting, Monson told The Salt Lake Tribune. “And I know they probably couldn’t do it all the time. But my proposal is at the beginning of the year you turn in a petition of guys who are planning on participating in Ramadan.”

Long Beach State’s first-round game against Arizona was scheduled for noon in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

Monson said the NCAA could have easily moved Long Beach’s game to a later time slot and switched it with the Gonzaga-McNeese State game at 5:25 p.m. That would have allowed Traore to eat and drink during the game.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Long Beach State practices ahead of the First Round of the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

“It would certainly be easy, if nobody in the Gonzaga and McNeese State game is practicing, to switch games with a team” that has players observing Ramadan, he said. “We have a couple [players fasting]. [Arizona center Oumar] Ballo has at least done so in the past. I think it is something that could be, and should be, considered.”

Long Beach is not the only team with players fasting for Ramadan. Locally, BYU has one player, Aly Khalifa, fasting during games this month. Utah State’s Kalifa Sakho is doing the same.

Monson said a petition at the start of the season would allow the NCAA time to work around the schedules. It would also cut down on the number of teams saying they need accommodation if they do not, he said.

“Because if you did [the petition] this week, you’d get everyone who is going to say they are in Ramadan,” he said. “But early in the year, to make sure these kids [get] at least some consideration to it. Can you accommodate them all? Probably not.”

This year, Ramadan began on March 10 and will end April 9. That means it will last the entirety of the NCAA tournament.

Last year, national champion UConn had multiple players fasting in the Final Four. Adama Sanogo, Hassan Diarra and Andre Jackson all had to navigate the Big East tournament and NCAA tournament without food or water in many games.

Final Four games are at night. It allowed them to eat quickly before playing.

BYU’s Sunday exemption is one of the few religious exemptions the NCAA recognizes. BYU, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, designates Sunday as a day of rest. The NCAA has altered schedules of tournaments to ensure BYU does not have to play on Sundays.

But BYU head coach Mark Pope said he does not think the NCAA should necessarily give exemptions for Ramadan.

“I wouldn’t expect them to kind of address this issue for us at all, which is fine,” Pope said this week. “I think part of the built-in part of faith is that you kind of press forward with your acts of devotion, and it’s inherent in that you have faith that God’s will is going to be done.

“I don’t think Aly is asking for any handouts. I don’t think any of our players in their faith walk are asking for any accommodations or handouts. I think that kind of defies the point of it.”

Pope said Khalifa was fine with playing while fasting, saying it was an act of belief.

“One of the beautiful things about acts of devotion, which all of our guys on our team are incredibly familiar with, is that you kind of put your offering on the altar so to speak, the figurative altar, and then you trust that God’s will is going to be done, and that’s pretty special,” he continued.

“I think Aly definitely lives in that space, and he is a believer. We’ve said this a lot. We’re a team full of believers, and so we’re not necessarily looking for unique accommodations.”