Big 12 Says 'Horns Down' Will Be Penalized 'Like Any Other Celebration Foul'

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2019

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown (5) gestures
Cooper Neill/Associated Press

Big 12 players who flash the "Horns Down" sign—a mocking inverse of Texas' famous "Hook 'Em Horns" gesture—will be subjected to the same rules as when they partake in any other celebration this season.

The Big 12's coordinator of football officials, Greg Burks, spoke about the conference's stance on Horns Down during Tuesday's Big 12 media days, per Adam Rittenberg of ESPN:

"Like any play, there is a degree—who it's directed at. If they do it in their bench area, we're not going to look at it. It would be like any other celebration foul, so it has to be like any other foul we have. Does it rise to the level we need to deal with that? It's a hot topic.

"I know people want us to be definitive on that, but it's like any touchdown celebration. Is it directed at an opponent or just celebration with your teammates?"

"When we have discussed it, by rule, anything that's prolonged to ... bring attention to the individual rather than the team is a foul," Burks added. "My advice is if you want to do that, do it back in your bench area. Do it back with teammates. Get away from where you are an individual drawing attention to yourself."

While the Longhorns' rivals have been mocking them with the fairly tame Horns Down for decades, the debate over whether the hand gesture should be penalized was raised again last season after West Virginia's David Sills V was penalized for doing it after scoring a touchdown and quarterback Will Grier was later penalized for flashing it following a two-point conversion.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen told ESPN that officials said before that game that a penalty would only be called if the Horns Down was flashed in an "intimidating" way.

"I lit into David. 'I told you doing ... that s--t, you're hurting the team,'" Holgorsen said, per Rittenberg. "He goes, 'Coach, I barely did it.' So I went to the refs and I said, 'Who did he intimidate?' They go, 'He intimidated the crowd.' He intimidated the crowd is what they said."

If it seems odd that such a specific celebration—or mocking gesture, from Texas' perspective—is such a major topic of conversation, Burks noted the standard for Horns Down applies to any other celebration, too (h/t Mike Casazza of 247Sports):

"It doesn't apply just to Horns Down. It applies to every act you do. If you score a touchdown, you can't spike the football. You can't throat slash. The way the question was put to me from a Texas perspective is if Horns Down is a foul, how come Horns Up isn't a foul, right? So, it's the manner in which it's directed and what it means. It comes back to interpretation, so I'll leave it on the officials to make that determination."

So, Horns Down won't result in an automatic penalty. Intent and where it is directed, like any other celebration, will be determining factors. But that level of ambiguity for a clearly sensitive topic means the conversation surrounding Horns Down will likely be raised yet again this season.

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