'Horns Down' gesture can still be a taunting penalty, says Big 12 commissioner Greg Burks

In what has become an annual rite of passage on Big 12 media days, director of officiating Greg Burks was asked if the Horns Down gesture directed at the Texas Longhorns was a "dead issue."

Even with the Longhorns set to depart the league, Burks said he knew the question was coming, and said yes, it will still be a judgment call.

"Let me be very clear with Horns Down," Burks said. "I have no ownership on this symbol. This symbol is the same as all other signals. It's when you do it, who you do it to and which manner you do it."

He then made an appeal to the conference's constituents north of the Red River who are particularly fond of the gesture.

"Please, state of Oklahoma, I meant no offense," Burks said. "You don't have to send me emails. We are just looking at that as any other act and you note that unsportsmanlike conduct is in there. It is not about Horns Up or Horns Down is the manner that you do anything on the field to an opponent and an unsportsmanlike manner."

Trying to police the issue has been a struggle for officials, who have to determine if it's a 15-yard penalty. Outgoing league commissioner Bob Bowlsby once referred to the issue as a "tempest in a teapot." Former Texas coach Mack Brown said in 2012 that it was taunting and should be penalized as such.

"That's something we ought to talk about as a league," Brown said after a game against Texas Tech. "The Horns Down are disrespectful for players on the field."

Last month, after East Carolina baseball fans repeatedly employed the Horns Down during the Greenville Super Regional in a game against Texas, UT athletic director Chris Del Conte told the Austin American-Statesman that it should be considered a source of pride for Longhorn fans.

"When we live in the brains and minds and hearts of individuals who go Horns Down, it's an incredible compliment," he said. "We're glad you're thinking of us. It tells you about the reckoning of the brand."

In 2019, Burks addressed the issue, saying Horns Down would not be a penalty if it wasn't directed toward the Longhorns directly.

"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.

Last year, Burks reiterated it, and noted it's still a gray area, particularly if a player turned to the crowd to throw the sign, saying despite a new emphasis on cracking down on taunting, it probably wouldn't be a penalty if it wasn't directed specifically at the opponent.

"Please all of you note, I said 'probably,'" Burks added. "We have to consider intent and consider the situation. We'll leave it to officials."