EDITOR’S NOTE: The SEC on Wednesday announced that the Bulldogs’ game at Missouri would be postponed, possibly to Dec. 19, due to a COVID outbreak within the Tigers’ program | CLICK HERE FOR UPDATE
Georgia’s football game at Missouri on Saturday is in jeopardy of getting postponed.
The St. Louis Times-Dispatch reported Tuesday afternoon that Sunday’s round of testing for the Tigers revealed one positive case for COVID-19. So, now they’re having to review contact-testing data to determine if any other players or staff might have been exposed. If too many players have been exposed, then postponement might have to be considered. SEC teams must have 53 scholarship players available or at least seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one quarterback to be considered fit for competition.
Meanwhile, three other SEC games already have been called because of COVID-19 infections and exposures. The SEC office confirmed Tuesday that the Alabama-at-LSU and Texas A&M-at-Tennessee games had to be postponed. Those cancellations followed one from Monday by Mississippi State, which was to host Auburn on Saturday.
“We have not heard anything officially from Missouri,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re practicing today. We’re preparing this week as if we’re playing this weekend.”
Reports started to surface Tuesday afternoon from Columbia-based media outlets covering the Tigers that the team might be encountering some personnel shortages because of COVID-19 infections. Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz and selected players were scheduled to conduct a digital news conference at their regular time Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. That event was canceled shortly before it was set to start and rescheduled for 6:15 p.m.
According Power Mizzou.com, at the evening news conference, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said that contact tracing “was significant at a position,” but he declined to reveal which position, saying “I am able, but I’m not going to.”
Drinkwitz said that the decision whether to play would be made by the Missouri administration and the SEC office, Power Mizzou reported.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, meeting with media after Tuesday’s practice. didn’t even want to discuss the possibility of not playing Saturday.
“To be honest with you, I don’t even want to talk about that,” said Smart, whose team is off to a 4-2 start for the first time since 2016. “I know there’s rumors out there, but I don’t want to plan on that. ... I’ll say this: We need a game; we want to play.”
McGarity was able to share that the Bulldogs are not experiencing any infections within their football program. UGA does have head coaches for its women’s soccer and men’s tennis teams currently under quarantine because of positive tests. Soccer coach Billy Lesesne was scheduled to exit the protocol Tuesday and coach the Bulldogs in preparation for their SEC Tournament appearance in Orange Beach, S.C., on Sunday.
But McGarity also points out that any team is only as good as its latest round of testing.
As per SEC guidelines, all football teams undergo testing Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday each week. Generally, teams know positive results immediately. However, it’s another 24 hours before they’re able to determine any individuals that might have been exposed.
In those cases, the SEC is utilizing a technology by Kinexon which chronicles who has been around whom and for how long. That data is pulled for each individual who tests positive. If one or more persons were within six feet of an infected individual for 15 minutes or more, those persons are considered exposed and must enter the SEC’s 10-day quarantine protocol.
“Eat, meet and greet, that’s where problems occur,” McGarity said. “It’s not during a game, it’s not in practice, it’s not while they’re in our buildings. It’s when they leave to go eat, meet and greet. There’s been no evidence that it’s happening in competition.”
SEC officials expressed concerns about what might happen once the calendar entered the holiday season. Tuesday marked 10 days since Halloween. And, of course, Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner.
“We have not been officially notified, and we’re planning to play Missouri on Saturday until we hear otherwise,” McGarity said.
Meanwhile, Georgia also is scheduled to play Mississippi State on Nov. 21, which will be the Bulldogs' first home game in six weeks. Technically, that game could be in jeopardy, too, depending on how many infections and exposures are able to clear the SEC’s protocol.
McGarity said he hasn’t had any conversations or correspondences yet with Mississippi State.
“There’s a possibility we could know something by Friday,” McGarity said. “Right now, we’re just trying to get through this week.”
For the Bulldogs' part, they anticipate being able to play.
“Ron Courson and his staff do a tremendous job,” Smart said. “But it’s misleading what’s out there because everybody thinks COVID is taking over these teams. It’s not. It’s mild. They’re having one or two cases. But it’s contact tracing that causes people to not play. ... It’s tough, but it’s for safety reasons.”