COLUMBIA — An inconclusive result from a recent round of testing within the Missouri football program means the Tigers will be without seven players due to quarantine policy for Saturday's season opener against No. 2 Alabama, Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz told media Tuesday during his weekly press conference, not 12.
Missouri has been testing players every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday in compliance with the Southeastern Conference's protocols, and had zero positive test results from Sunday's round of testing.
"Right now we're at seven. I know that I had initially stated 12, but there was an issue with our testing," Drinkwitz said. "One of the test results came back inconclusive, which deemed that to be a positive, and so therefore we contact traced several players. Once that inconclusive test was retaken multiple times with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) swab and concluded to be a negative test, we were able to allow people to come back out of the contact tracing."
This recent development means the team will have five additional players available to play Saturday who Drinkwitz and his staff initially did not plan to have available because of the SEC's 14-day mandated quarantine period.
The Tigers expect to have 69 out of a total roster of 81 scholarship players available for Saturday's game, 16 more than the minimum required by the SEC to play the game, rather than reschedule or declare a no contest. Missouri's scholarship roster limit was reduced by four for this season due to NCAA sanctions after an unsuccessful appeal of penalties imposed from the athletic department's 2015-16 academic misconduct case.
Inconclusive coronavirus test results have already upset the WNBA's playoff schedule with three inconclusive tests delivered to Seattle Storm players, but Missouri's football program found out about this inconclusive result before the start of its season. The Tigers' Week 1 opponent, Alabama, has not made any information about coronavirus test results publicly available, and coach Nick Saban has said he wasn't sure he would do so. Information can be a precious resource, but it's Drinkwitz's view making such information public knowledge is better for the public good.
"Transparency," he said of his thought process on releasing coronavirus numbers. "This is a public health issue, it's not a competitive advantage issue, this is not an injury that we're trying to keep, you know, this is a public health issue and people should know what's going on within our football team as it relates to a pandemic. I would say that that's probably more important than whatever competitive advantage we feel like it might be to win or lose the football game, I would still cite that a pandemic probably is more important than that; although I do believe in the value of football and believe in what we're doing, and excited about the opportunity to represent the state of Missouri on Saturday."
Missouri isn't being fully transparent — there has been no distinction between positive cases and close contacts among the seven players who are out, and the athletic department stopped releasing internal testing numbers, electing instead to report them as part of the University's student body testing numbers — but it is at least acknowledging the issue.
Drinkwitz also updated the team's roster with some new information Tuesday afternoon: tight end Brendan Scales, who took a medical redshirt last season after a broken fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot during fall camp, has medically retired; offensive lineman Thalen Robinson has opted out of the season, the third Missouri player to do so, following wideout Maurice Massey and defensive lineman Chris Daniels; and offensive lineman Hyrin White, a redshirt junior who was a likely starter at tackle this season, is out for the year after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Defensive end Jatorian Hansford, who missed fall camp with a shoulder injury, will also miss the season because of shoulder surgery, and Drinkwitz said defensive lineman Sci Martin will be out this week, and may miss next week against Tennessee, because of a knee injury.
The Tigers did add a familiar face back to the team: defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat. Jeffcoat missed fall camp and the first three games of the 2019 season with an injury, was pointed to as a hopeful starter against Troy by Barry Odom after practicing that week, and then was announced as no longer enrolled at Missouri and not with the program during pregame warmups against Troy.
"Trajan Jeffcoat was readmitted to the university last month, and after visiting with him and our team's leadership we allowed him to rejoin our football team, and we're excited about moving forward with him as a member of the Mizzou Tigers," Drinkwitz said.
Jeffcoat played in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2018, recording seven tackles, a sack and three quarterback pressures. His unknown departure — Missouri did not comment, citing student privacy laws — was part of the reason the Tigers were so thin at defensive end. Drinkwitz said Jeffcoat had been working out on his own and "is in good shape and working to compete," and though he was not listed on Tuesday's depth chart, he could provide valuable backup snaps behind Tre Williams, Chris Turner and Isaiah Williams at some point this season.