Without context, the moment feels far too commonplace to be featured on CBS Sports.

Kalifa Sakho, a forward for Utah State’s basketball team, takes a drink and then a bite of a snack. He’s sitting on the bench with teammates during the Aggies’ Mountain West semifinal game against San Diego State.

The CBS Sports cameras zoomed in on Sakho at this moment not because he was doing something unusual but because of his faith.

Sakho, a Muslim, is currently fasting for Ramadan. His snack on the bench Friday was part of the first meal he’d consumed since sunrise that day.

Ramadan and March Madness

The holy month of Ramadan happens at a different time each year, since the Islamic calendar is based on the moon.

As recently as 2019, it began in May, meaning that it didn’t overlap with the college basketball season.

But last year and this year, Ramadan arrived at nearly the same time as March Madness, creating a challenge for Muslim players and their teams.

Players who choose to fast from sunrise to sundown throughout the month, as most Muslims around the world do, have to work closely with their coaches to ensure they stay healthy and have access to food at odd hours.

“The hydration part is going to be tricky,” said BYU center Aly Khalifa to the Deseret News earlier this month about his fasting plans. “It is just going to be tricky if we have a 3 p.m. game and I can’t eat or drink and the last time I ate was 5 in the morning.”

Related
What BYU’s Aly Khalifa said about fasting during the Big 12 tournament
The unique link between BYU and UConn during March Madness this year

How Muslim athletes fast

In addition to being the highest stakes part of the college basketball season, the NCAA Tournament stands out for its unique schedule.

First-round games start as early as 10:15 a.m. MDT and as late as 8:05 p.m. MDT.

That means teams with fasting Muslim players have to be prepared for a variety of situations. The pre-dawn meal they prepare will differ depending on whether the team plays in four hours — or 10.

Utah State Aggies forward Kalifa Sakho (34) shoots the ball with Fresno State Bulldogs guard Jalen Weaver (5) on defense during the game between the Utah State Aggies and the Fresno State Bulldogs in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West 2024 men's basketball championship at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Thursday, March 14, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Friday’s CBS Sports segment on Sakho offered a glimpse at what it’s like for Muslim players when the sun sets during an evening game. The tip-off time for the Mountain West semifinal was 6:30 p.m. local time in Las Vegas. Sakho could break his fast at 6:48 p.m.

As Sakho did in the footage, most athletes break their fast during games with a small snack rather than a big meal. They have to be careful not to make themselves sick by eating too much too fast.

CBS Sports reported that Utah State’s goal with the quick drink and snack for Sakho was to help him feel energized throughout the evening game and begin his recovery process.

The No. 8-seeded Aggies will kick off their NCAA Tournament run on Friday night at 9:55 p.m. local time in Indianapolis. That means Sakho will have around two hours before tip-off to break his fast and get hydrated.

No. 6-seeded BYU plays Thursday in Omaha, Nebraska, at 11:40 a.m. local time. Khalifa and the rest of the Cougars will take the court around five hours after his pre-dawn meal.