'Horns Down' taunt to Texas football players this season 'probably' a penalty, Big 12 official says
ARLINGTON, Texas — Greg Burks cracked a smile at the question.
“I figured that’d be the first question asked,” the Big 12 coordinator of football officials said Thursday at Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium.
The question? The Big 12’s latest stance on “Horns Down,” the unofficial hand signal of the Oklahoma Sooners — and other Texas opponents.
“If you do a Horns Down to a Texas player as an opponent, that’s probably going to be a foul,” Burks said in his annual address on rule changes and points of emphasis. “If you turn to the crowd and do a Horns Down … it will probably not be a foul.”
Burks’ address had plenty of focus on OU and Oklahoma State — with a rule change that would have taken the controversy out of the Cowboys’ 2016 loss to Central Michigan; one that could have made OSU’s video-board antics in last season’s game against Texas illegal, and a point of emphasis on taunting opponents.
But the Horns Downs topic is always one that fires up fans, especially after West Virginia was twice flagged for flashing the sign in a 2018 game against the Longhorns, and subsequently Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said the league told him ahead of the Big 12 Championship Game that his team couldn’t do the hand sign, though a source later said the sign wouldn’t necessarily draw a flag.
Since, Riley has generally directed his players not to flash the sign during the game. Burks said the point of emphasis was on making sure players weren’t taunting opponents directly.
“We are not going to allow a player to stand over another player (and taunt them),” Burks said.
College football rule changes go in a two-year cycle, with this being a year where only player-safety rule changes can be made. But two of the changes could have affected Oklahoma State games in recent years.
First, the controversial ending that helped Central Michigan pull off a 30-27 upset over the Cowboys in 2016.
In that game, OSU faced a fourth down with four seconds left while leading 27-24. Mason Rudolph threw the ball out of bounds as Cowboys receivers didn’t run routes. Rudolph was flagged for intentional grounding, and the Chippewas were granted one untimed down from their own 49.
Central Michigan then completed a Hail Mary play for a touchdown that included a lateral that helped the Chippewas pull off a wild upset. But Central Michigan shouldn’t have been granted the play, according to the rules at the time, which state that an untimed down was not to be awarded if a penalty was called on the team in possession and the penalty called for a loss of down.
A rule change for 2021, though, would have granted the Chippewas the untimed down.
“In that situation, the offended team would’ve wanted the loss of down,” Burks said. “If the offended team wants a play, now they would get an opportunity to have one.”
In last season’s 41-34 Texas win over OSU, the video board at Boone Pickens Stadium flashed vertical yellow lines, mimicking goalposts. Beginning this season, video board and lighting system operators have been added to “personnel who may not create any distraction that obstructs play.”
“I know that that’s the one issue from the Big 12 that nationally they looked at,” Burks said of the Boone Pickens Stadium video board in the Texas game. “I don’t know if it (having the lines on the board) affects the kicker … but certainly this is an attempt to say, ‘We’re not going any further with this.’ ”