San Jose State Spartans expect to play in Arizona Bowl despite travel restrictions

No. 22 San Jose State expects to play in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 31, despite a report that Santa Clara County is investigating whether the team's travel plan violates the county's COVID-19 travel directives.

Dr. Jeff Smith, the county executive officer, told the Bay Area News Group on Monday the Spartans could potentially be stopped from boarding a flight to the Arizona Bowl in Tucson. The team returned to the Bay Area shortly after winning the Mountain West championship in Las Vegas on Saturday, and those in the traveling party were subject to the county's 10-day quarantine mandate.

"The travel directive strongly discourages all non-essential travel. With a few exceptions (none of which are applicable to college sports), anyone who arrives in the County from farther than 150 miles away must comply with 10-day quarantine requirements upon return," Santa Clara County said in a statement provided to ESPN. "Under the Mandatory Directive on Travel, they must quarantine in their home or place of temporary shelter without contact with any person other than members of one's own immediate traveling party or one's household."

In a Zoom news conference with reporters Monday, coach Brent Brennan said players would be permitted to see their families for Christmas, citing the impact that being away from loved ones since July has had on their mental health.

"Our players needed to see their people," Brennan said.

San Jose State's players have been tested for COVID-19 three times a week throughout the season and have not had any games canceled due to an outbreak of the virus within their roster. The team had been away from home for 17 days following the county's ban on contact sports earlier this month that resulted in the team playing three games as the designated home team out of state -- once in Hawaii, twice in Las Vegas.

A university spokesman told ESPN the school developed its travel plan based on a review of the county travel directive.

"The university's plans do not circumvent the county's travel mandate; instead, the plans comply with county guidelines while also making travel arrangements that allow us sufficient time to prepare for the Arizona Bowl game," SJSU spokesman Kenneth Mashinchi said in a statement. "SJSU will be departing the county before the 10-day quarantine because the Arizona Bowl game has required meetings and pregame activities for participating teams. The team will travel by private charter to further prevent concerns of the potential spread of COVID-19.

"SJSU scheduled travel in and out of San Jose to allow student-athletes and staff who tested negative for COVID-19 and live out of the county to leave immediately after arriving in the county. Under county guidelines, those individuals who are merely passing through the county do not have to quarantine."

The players who remained in Santa Clara County upon returning from Las Vegas adhered to the quarantine mandate, Mashinchi said.

In a college football season that has been severely impacted by the global coronavirus, few teams have dealt with as many twists as the Spartans. For much of the offseason, the team was unable to meet in person and was then limited to practicing in cohorts of 12 or fewer once the Mountain West season was announced. In order to be able to practice fully, the team moved its base of operations over 300 miles away to Humboldt State University, where it spent nearly two weeks before the season began in October.

At the time, Santa Clara County was critical of the team's decision to move to Humboldt, issuing a statement that said, "With respect to a team holding practice in another county, we are very disappointed to see any team going outside the county to circumvent a process that was put in place to ensure the safety of its players and staff."

The Spartans' Mountain West title is their first in school history and saw the team rise to No. 19 in the AP poll, its highest-ever ranking. Brennan is considered among the favorites to be named the next head coach at Arizona.

"SJSU respects and values the work the Santa Clara County Public Health Department is doing to keep our community safe," Mashinchi said. "Our student-athletes and staff have benefited from the county's guidance, which has shaped the testing requirements and strict protocols we put in place to create a safe environment. "San Jose State University looks forward to playing in the Arizona Bowl on December 31."