ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Big 12 coordinator of officials Greg Burke stoked new flames to the fire surrounding the controversial “Horns Down” celebration during his press conference at Big 12 Media Days on Tuesday, offering evidence that more drama may lie ahead this fall.
Asked if or how the popular celebration — a taunting take on Texas’ “Horns Up” hand sign — would be officiated in the Big 12 this season, Burke gave an ambiguous answer, leaving the conference’s updated stance open to interpretation and ripe for more debate come Big 12 play in 2019.
“The answer I will give you is ‘it depends,' ” Burke said Tuesday. “It's like any unsportsmanlike act. If somebody scores quickly, turns to their cheering section, and it's quick and they move on, we're not going to do anything with that. If it's to a bench or to another player, and it's prolonged, it would be an unsportsmanlike act.”
Based on Burke’s response, Horns Down celebrations such as the ones West Virginia’s Will Grier and David Sills flashed toward Longhorns fans in November 2018, which breathed new life into the issue, would fit the definition of an unsportsmanlike act. Other displays of the hand signal, toward a player’s own sideline rather than opposing players, coaches or fans for instance, Burke would seem to indicate, would not be deemed a penalty.
“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,” Burke continued. “It would be like any other celebration foul, so it has to be like any other foul we have.”
Ultimately, Burke’s comments Tuesday may have left coaches, players and fans with more questions than answers on the subject, and the debate over Horns Down appears likely to be drawn out once again when the season gets underway this fall.
Burke outlines rule changes for 2019
After addressing the complexities of officiating Horns Down, Burke moved onto other Big 12 rule changes that will come into effect this fall.
In 2019, targeting penalties will require “all elements of the targeting” to be present during a video review in order for a player to be disqualified from a game. The key difference this fall is that targeting can longer be overturned on the field. Instead, all targeting calls will be reviewed and only when one or more elements of targeting is not present will the call be overturned.
The two key elements of targeting remain using the crown of the helmet in helmet-to-helmet contact and the targeting of a defenseless player.
Another change in targeting rules this fall is that a player’s third targeting penalty in a season will result in a one-game suspension in addition to previously mandated immediate disqualification. Previously, targeting penalties carried only the ejection, and in the case of a second half infraction, a first half suspension in the following game.
Overtime is the other prominent portion of the game which will see in the name of player safety.
Starting this fall, games that reach a fifth overtime will immediately start from a two-point conversion attempt, rather than the traditional starting point at the defense’s 25-year line. The conference’s goal is to avoid extended overtime games, such as LSU and Texas A&M’s seven-overtime marathon in 2018, which Big 12 officials deemed unsafe.
Replay on judgement calls unlikely to arrive in Big 12
With the NFL’s decision to allow pass interference penalties to be reviewed, the question of whether the same system being introduced at the college level in the near future has risen to the surface.
When discussing the prospect of making pass interference and other judgement calls reviewable, Burke said he and the conference believe such a chance is a slippery slope, and that attempting to decide those sorts of subjective calls with the help of video could present new issues.
In short, Big 12 fans shouldn’t expect anything groundbreaking in this area anytime soon.
“I don't know where technology is going,” Burke said. “I know that I trust the judgment of our officials when it comes to those type of plays. It is my opinion that we leave that in the hands of the officials.