OU football: SEC coordinator of officials weighs in on 'Horns Down gesture

Transcript Sports Editor
The year is 2017, and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is dancing around a group of Texas pass-rushers before heaving a 54-yard pass to Jeff Badet for a touchdown on the Sooners’ opening possession.
It’s a big moment for the 12th-ranked Sooners as they take an early one-touchdown lead over the unranked Longhorns. Among the players that raced down to the end zone to celebrate with Badet, was offensive lineman Cody Ford, who ran alongside the redshirt senior on the Longhorns’ side of the stadium, holding both hands up in a “Horns Down” gesture.
The hand signal, an inverted variation of Texas’ ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ gesture, was hardly out of the ordinary for the heated rivalry game, but just two years later it would’ve garnered a lot more attention. In 2019, Big 12 officials coordinator Greg Burks announced that the gesture would be considered an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty if it was flaunted at opposing players.
It’s been a popular talking point every year since, but the Sooners have mostly stayed out of the conversation after former head coach Lincoln Riley told members of the media that he was going to direct his players not to use it.
This year, it was a topic of discussion at SEC media days, as well.
SEC coordinator of officials John McDaid told Action Network’s Brett McMurphy that the conference will penalize the gesture only if it meets one of three criteria.
“Is it taunting an opponent? Is it making a travesty of the game? Is it otherwise compromising our ability to manage the game?” he said per McMurphy. “There’s a difference between a player giving a signal directly in (the) face of an opponent, as opposed to doing it (with) teammates celebrating after a touchdown or on the sideline. To net all that out, every single occurrence is not an act of unsportsmanlike conduct.”
With Oklahoma and Texas a year away from joining the conference, the SEC appears to be taking a softer stance on the controversial hand sign.
Under these guidelines, it seems likely that Ford’s gesture would be allowed, just as it was in 2017.
The key would be that Ford wasn’t using the gesture to taunt the opposing team. Later on in the game, Rodney Anderson broke off a 15-yard touchdown run, and again, Ford was there to celebrate with the ‘Horns Down gesture, this time facing the stands on the Sooners’ side of the stadium.
Ford didn’t receive an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty this time, either and it seems as though those celebrations will continue to be allowed when the Sooners and the Longhorns join the SEC.
The following season West Virginia was penalized twice in a single game for flashing the ‘Horns Down sign after touchdowns on the road in Austin.
“The answer I will give you is ‘it depends,’” Burks said at Big 12 media days back in 2019. “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.”

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