West Virginia wide receiver David Sills made headlines across college football with a simple hand gesture in 2018.
After scoring West Virginia’s first touchdown in the first quarter of a 42-41 victory over Texas, Sills flashed a “horns down” hand signal, a spoof on the Longhorns’ famous “horns up” gesture. Sills didn’t get away with it, landing a 15-yard penalty — the first of two against WVU for making the gesture.
Those flags started a national conversation that bled into 2019 about whether or not that move should get a call from a whistle. Apparently, it’s still on the minds of Big 12 fans and reporters now in 2021, as conference coordinator of officials Greg Burks tried to clear up how such a gesture would be enforced this season.
To summarize: players might or might not get flagged for it — but it’s all up to the discretion of the individual officials, and no rule is set in stone.
“If you do a ‘horns down’ to a Texas player as an opponent, that’s probably going to be a foul,” Burks said. “If you turn to your crowd and do a ‘horns down,’ you’re not taunting an individual or an opponent, so it probably won’t be a foul.”
That might seem simple enough, but the explanation gets murkier as Burks made sure to emphasize the “probably” in that statement. The parameters for a flag change depending on the offending player’s intent and the situation in which the gesture was made, so it might not be as simple as flashing it on the sideline, away from opponents.
Not much has changed in the years since the original flag against Sills. At the 2019 Big 12 Football Media Days, Burks fielded a similar question, and gave a similar answer regarding the illegality of the gesture — “it depends.”
“I know people want us to be very definitive on that, but it’s like almost every touchdown celebration,” he said.
Although there has been little change in the language surrounding the officiating of “horns down,” officials have not spared any hours talking about it ahead of every season.
“I promise that we discuss this every year, because [the media discusses] this every year,” Burks said. “And I hope at some point somebody else’s symbols and signals will come in to play other than just the ‘Horns.”