COLUMBIA — A decision to transfer has narrowed the Missouri football team's margin of error to play this weekend even further.
Junior wide receiver Dominic Gicinto entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal, Missouri confirmed Wednesday, as the Tigers (2-3) prepare for a road game against South Carolina (2-5) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
On Wednesday's Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference, Eli Drinkwitz confirmed Missouri currently has 54 scholarship players for the South Carolina game after Gicinto's decision to transfer. That number also includes two players Drinkwitz designated as "questionable" for the game: Kobie Whiteside and Xavier Delgado.
The SEC's cutoff for scholarship players available at kickoff is 53, though a team below that line can still elect to play if it wants to. Drinkwitz said Tuesday the team was "committed" to playing this week after a bye week and an open date because the Georgia game was postponed.
Drinkwitz also said "Yeah" when asked if the news from Tuesday's round of coronavirus testing was promising for the program. The Tigers will go through another round of testing today, with results returned Friday, before flying to Columbia, S.C.
COVID issues, as well as opt-outs, transfers and injuries, aren't just limited to Missouri, though.
"We're close to that number ourselves," Gamecocks interim head coach Mike Bobo said during Wednesday's teleconference. "With injuries and opt-outs, we're close to (Missouri's) number. I think everybody's thin right now. You're always thin as the year goes on because of injuries but now you add opt-outs, it causes some concern for you as a coach getting guys ready to play."
Part of the issue for teams nationwide is NCAA scholarship rosters must be certified in August. Players can choose to re-join their current teams after entering the transfer portal, but it's more likely the decision leads to a departure, particularly when there is a new head coach.
The scholarship vacated by a player leaving cannot be reallocated until the beginning of the next semester, which is why Missouri's scholarship roster numbers cannot go back up during the season.
"The soonest we'd be able to reward anybody with a scholarship would be in January," Drinkwitz said of the roster. "Which is kind of sad. I think some of us had petitioned for opt-outs to try to replace some of these guys (with) some of these walk-ons and give those guys those scholarships, but that wasn't something that the NCAA was willing to do, which obviously leads to where you're at with your 53 numbers and all that stuff. So you know, not anything that anybody could foresee, but now we're in the middle of it, and this is what you're dealing with."
Gicinto played off-and-on as a slot receiver in his career, including 15 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 12 games in 2018, four catches for 61 yards in 11 games as a sophomore and four catches for 52 yards in four games this season.
A native of Raytown, Gicinto tweeted Wednesday he didn't want to leave his dream school, but "I'm so glad that I was able to play on the biggest stage it was a dream come true."
Drinkwitz said Gicinto informed him of his decision after practice Tuesday.
Gicinto is the fifth player to enter the transfer portal since the start of the season, joining wideout Cjay Boone, quarterback Taylor Powell, defensive lineman Montra Edwards and linebacker Aubrey Miller Jr.
Five other scholarship players have either opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns or medically retired.