The Santa Clara University and Cal State Bakersfield men's basketball teams at Kaiser Permanente Arena Wednesday night.
The Santa Clara University and Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball teams warm up before their game at Kaiser Permanente Arena Wednesday night.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Recreation & Sports

Sports return to Santa Cruz County ... courtesy of Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 restrictions

The Santa Clara men’s basketball team played a “home-away-from-home” game at a crowd-less Kaiser Permanente Arena on Wednesday night. Meanwhile the San Jose State football team was practicing in Scotts Valley.

Live sports were back in Santa Cruz County this week, just not in the fashion local fans might wish or hope for.

Santa Clara County’s new COVID-19 restrictions — which ban all sports practices and games through Dec. 21, even for the San Francisco 49ers — have caused two college teams to suit up here . . . quietly.

Kaiser Permanente Arena hadn’t seen live basketball action since the Santa Cruz Warriors played their last home game of the virus-shortened G League season on Feb. 29. But on Wednesday night the arena hosted a no-fans-allowed men’s college game between Santa Clara University and Cal State Bakersfield.

Meanwhile, another collegiate squad from over the hill, the San Jose State football team, also took a drive over Highway 17. It was a caravan that involved as many as nine buses, according to one source, in order to comply with the limited number of players and coaches allowed on each bus per social distancing protocol.

The Spartans, enjoying their first 4-0 start since 1955, have been practicing at Scotts Valley High the past two days in preparation for their game at Hawaii on Saturday.

Warriors President Chris Murphy said the decision to welcome SCU for several practices earlier in the week and Wednesday’s game stemmed from two factors: a close relationship between the team and university — and the fact that the state has allowed for live indoor sports without fans since June.

“We wanted to help them out if we could,” he said, also emphasizing that safety protocols are the team’s top priority.

“We’re continuing to follow guidelines for the state and county. The focus is on making sure it’s safe,” Murphy said. “There will be no fans, the teams will be literally in and out. SCU does an amazing amount of testing. It couldn’t be a safer environment to play hoops.”

In a statement given to the Mercury News, Santa Clara Athletics Director Renee Baumgartner said: “We will strictly follow all health and safety guidelines of Santa Cruz County and the state of California.”

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Meanwhile, in Scotts Valley, Schools Superintendent Tanya Krause didn’t respond to phone and email inquiries about the decision to let the San Jose State football team use school facilities. Reached by phone, San Jose State’s Associate Athletics Director Lawrence Fan said “All I can say is that we’re following county guidelines and preparing to play Hawaii.”

If the Spartans beat the Rainbow Warriors in the 3 p.m. game — which was scheduled as a San Jose State home game but forced to flip-flop due to the county’s health order — it will be the school’s first 5-0 start since 1939.

Either way, the Spartans won’t be able to come home immediately due to a 14-day quarantine for any team that travels more than 150 miles from Santa Clara County. Instead SJSU heads directly to Las Vegas where it will await a game with Nevada, its final regular-season opponent. The location of that game has not yet been decided.

As the Santa Clara County teams traveled here to suit up, local teams remained sidelined:

• The 2020-21 season for Cabrillo College’s basketball teams (and all fall and winter sports) has been pushed to spring.

• Any chance of fall and winter UC Santa Cruz sports returning to Division III action were dashed Wednesday when the Coast-To-Coast Athletic Conference announced the cancellation of all competition.

• On Tuesday, local high school programs got word that a December return to practice for fall sports would be delayed until at least Jan. 1. In the meantime, many teams continue training in small cohorts that meet county health guidelines.

• Murphy said in an interview last week that he held out hope for the Warriors to still play a G League season. That decision remains in the hands of the NBA, however, which is expected to render a decision within the coming week.