Sabbath observance gets athletes attention


BYU is a unique school. It is ranked as the top “Stone Cold Sober School” by the Princeton Review — and none of its athletes perform on Sunday.

The mission statement of BYU athletics is “to conduct the athletics program in a manner that will develop student-athletes of excellence in academics, athletics, faith and character, and to contribute to the mission of the LDS Church through the visibility of our positive example and our accomplishments.”

Part of that example includes honoring the Sabbath Day, and in 2010 several BYU teams and athletes made news by declining to play sports on Sunday. In April The New York Times and other news organizations took notice of the BYU women’s rugby team decision to withdraw from a national championship tournament instead of playing on Sunday.

This past fall semester, the BYU men’s tennis team had a distinctive opportunity to represent the Mountain Region in a national indoor tournament. In a rare result, two BYU doubles teams made the final of the regional tournament and were set to face each other in the championship.

Because the ITA recognized BYU’s no Sunday play, the organization not only moved the final to Tuesday, but also to Provo instead of Las Vegas where the tournament was originally scheduled. Thomas Shubert and Spencer Smith defeated Evan Urbina and Patrick Kawka to win regionals, and went on to participate in the national tournament in New York City.

In this situation, the policy did not end up harming BYU’s competitive opportunities, but that isn’t always the case in tennis.

In the singles portion of the same tournament, Urbina was able to advance to the semifinals, but had to default because the match was scheduled for Sunday.

“He [Urbina] didn’t say a word to me or any complaint about it,” men’s head coach Brad Pearce said. “He accepted it and handled it well. I was really proud of him for his attitude.”

As most BYU teams, including tennis, move from the Mountain West Conference to the West Coast Conference in the coming fall, they will continue to honor the policy, no matter the circumstances. WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich was ready to accept BYU into the conference, fully knowing the no Sunday play was in effect.

“It was a no-brainer after BYU football went independent,” Zaninovich said. “The West Coast Conference is a collection of western private institutions and BYU fit ideally with the institutions and competition.”

Zaninovich explained the no Sunday play was not a “foreign” concept and that some other private universities have limitations on play. He knew about this policy well before the admitting process. The WCC currently has eight private schools that do not play on religious holidays.

In a sense, the BYU teams joining the WCC seem like a perfect match.

But not every athletic organization understands or works with BYU’s policy. This past November, BYU’s Ultimate Frisbee club team participated in The Sean Ryan Memorial Tournament, which occurred on a weekend. Team captain Scott Cochran said it is difficult to find a weekend tournament that would accept BYU’s bid since they have to forfeit play on Sunday.

But, the tournament allowed BYU to play since the organizers believed they would lose their matches on Saturday. Cochran explained BYU was seeded 15th out of 16, just above a high school team. When the draw came out, BYU was set to play University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Santa Barbara, both of which placed in the top 10 at nationals last year.

But BYU embraced the underdog role as they flew through the rounds.

“We played practically flawless,” Cochran said. “Our style of offense and defense are unique to us and they could not get a read on what we were doing, while they were fairly predictable. We were ecstatic to play so well.”

BYU went on to beat eight seed UCSB 15-11 and four seed Cal 15-7, and then Sonoma St. 15-8. But, the Cinderella story had to end the next day, when BYU forfeited the final on Sunday.

“Turns out that Cal placed second in the tournament, just losing to UCSB,” Cochran said. “It hurts that we had a shot at winning a very high level tournament, but couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts.”

What also is discouraging for the club sport is that a new rule was put into action recently, stating ultimate frisbee teams that do not play on Sunday will not be allowed to participate in regionals or nationals. This rule applies only to BYU and BYU-Idaho since they are the only schools that do not play on Sunday. Cochran explained how tough it is since BYU wins its division every year and qualify for regionals and nationals, but doesn’t go.

“We don’t play because we honor the Sabbath day,” Cochran said. “Since we are not technically affiliated with BYU we can do whatever we want, but we choose, because of personal conviction, to give up our desire to go to nationals, as we certainly would, especially this year. It is an enormous sacrifice for me personally and for the team, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


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