COLUMBIA — Missouri's Homecoming game this Saturday has been postponed because coronavirus protocols have put Vanderbilt's roster below the Southeastern Conference's threshold of 53 scholarship players.
The game, originally scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Faurot Field, is the first SEC football game to be postponed since the league resumed play in mid-September. Missouri has had a women's soccer game canceled, and Monday morning postponed its season opener in volleyball at Alabama because of positive COVID-19 tests within its program.
Power Mizzou first reported the game would be postponed. Because Missouri and Vanderbilt do not share a common open date, the game will be played Dec. 12, the conference-wide open date before the SEC Championship Game.
In a statement released by the league office, the SEC said the game "is postponed due to positive tests & subsequent quarantine of individuals within the Vanderbilt football program. The action is consistent with SEC COVID-19 management requirements. The game is tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 12 in Columbia."
In an appearance on Monday afternoon's Paul Finebaum show, Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz said he informed his team the game had been postponed in a team meeting earlier in the day, and got an inkling the game wouldn't happen when the team's charter bus company called to tell him the Commodores had canceled their transportation to and from the airport and hotel.
"It's been a wild about three hours," Drinkwitz said. " We absolutely understand, we've been dealing with COVID just like everybody else, and so our No. 1 priority is for everybody at Vanderbilt to be safe, the players to be safe. And these football contests can be made up. We're going to use it as a positive for us here at Mizzou, we'll use the week to get healthy, we'll use the week to improve, we'll use the week to get refocused on our academics, and then we'll use the week to get focused on our next opponent after that, which will be Florida."
Missouri will take on the No. 10 Gators (2-1) Oct. 24 in Gainesville, Fla., at either 6 p.m. on ESPN or 6:30 p.m. on SEC Network. Florida dropped six spots in this week's AP Poll after a 41-38 loss at Texas A&M.
MU had already canceled the Homecoming parade and Greek house decoration competitions, both annual traditions, as well as Family Weekend in late September because of coronavirus-related crowd size restrictions. The Mizzou Alumni Association has organized other Homecoming events, like the blood drive, 5K run/walk and food bank donations, to be held remotely or virtually and tallied from communities around the country. Others, like student organizations' painting of downtown businesses front windows for Decorate the District, will still be held.
Athletic director Jim Sterk confirmed Monday afternoon on a Zoom call the virtual Homecoming events would go forward as scheduled. But Missouri would crown royalty Oct. 31 against Kentucky, the next home game and the original Homecoming opponent before the SEC's rescheduling due to the pandemic. He also confirmed Drinkwitz's account Missouri first learned of the potential issues from the bus charter company.
"You can't always predict what's going to what's going to happen," Sterk said. "So, appreciate everyone trying to work together and we'll try to get through this football season. Every game means a lot and we want to qualify for a bowl and have our full 10 game-season."
Sterk also said Missouri, Vanderbilt and the SEC never discussed ruling the game a no-contest.
The LSU-Missouri game was moved from Baton Rouge, La., to Columbia specifically for such an occurrence, as a non-coronavirus scheduling conflict, and played on the scheduled date so as to leave the open dates available for COVID-related schedule shuffles.
Missouri (1-2) played with approximately 60 scholarship players in the upset, as seven players were held out of the game, one for a positive test and six others because contact tracing. The six contacts were all expected to miss the Vanderbilt game if it had been played Saturday as scheduled.
The Commodores (0-3) lost 41-7 at home to South Carolina last Saturday, and according to The Athletic's Joe Rexrode had 56 scholarship players available for the game, three above the limit. SEC requirements allow for the game to be played at the program's discretion if below the roster limit, or to petition commissioner Greg Sankey to reschedule the game or declare it a no-contest.
"We're each reporting to the SEC our positives, and by position," Sterk said. "(The athletic department) sends in a form and we get it signed by our trainers and docs and then send it in, so they're keeping track of kind of where things are. They were worried about Vandy last week, so when you get down to 56, or down to the number they were at, then it's obviously something everyone takes note of."
Players that return a positive test are required to isolate for 10 days from the date of the positive test or from when symptoms are first present, if not asymptomatic. Because coronavirus is can be spread before symptoms are present, 'high risk' contacts — those who spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of the individual who tested positive — are required to quarantine for 14 days.
SEC programs began using wearable devices to track movement and proximity to others wearing the devices before the start of fall sports seasons as a way to more speedily and accurately determine who should be deemed a close contact if there is a positive test result. Deputy athletic director for communication Nick Joos said on Monday's Zoom call the longest amount of prolonged contact during the LSU-Missouri game was three minutes.