On a radio show Tuesday evening, Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley revealed that the Big 12 Conference informed his program that doing the “Horns Down” hand sign in Saturday’s league championship game against the Texas Longhorns will result in a penalty.
After West Virginia players were twice flagged for making that hand sign in Austin during the 42-41 Mountaineers victory in early November, Riley said on Monday that he’d asked the league office for clarification.
“Are you serious?” Texas senior defensive end Charles Omenihu said on Tuesday. “I ain’t too worried about that.”
Arguably, no one should be particularly worried about it. Or have to be worried about it to avoid penalties.
Here’s a quick word association regarding that decision from the league office — absurd, stupid, inconsistent.
First and foremost, the decision by the conference raises concerns because the Big 12 office is struggling to communicate and enforce whatever conference or national bylaw is related to this hand sign.
“Here is what I’m disappointed about,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said after the Texas game. “We communicated with the refs if that thing was going to get called. I guess there was miscommunication.”
In other words, Holgorsen and his staff attempted to communicate with the Big 12 officials before the game about whether the “Horns Down” hand sign would draw a penalty. Based on Holgorsen’s post-game comment, it sounds like the Big 12 either failed to provide any guidance to West Virginia or provided guidance contrary to how the game was actually officiated.
The latter scenario seems much more likely. And that’s not acceptable.
In a league where mistakes and incompetence by the officials are a regular occurrence in virtually every game, every week, the miscommunication in early November looms as a sign of larger leadership problems.
Numerous Texas opponents have gotten away with making that hand sign in recent years on the field of play, and justifiably so, because a review of NCAA guidelines on unsportsmanlike penalties supports allowing the hand sign and the Big 12 bylaws don’t specifically prohibit it, either.
The Big 12 has no language in its rulebook addressing gestures, only prohibiting athletes from “committing verbally or physically abusive acts toward game officials or an opponent’s team members, coaching staff, institutional personnel or fans.”
Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda told ESPN that the decision to flag players for taunting because of gestures is up to “officials’ judgment.”
Regardless of the extent to which former head coach Mack Brown disliked the gesture and complained about it, there’s no reason for the league to leave decisions about potentially game-altering penalties up to the judgment of officials. Especially since those officials clearly demonstrate bad judgment all the time.
If the conference wants to penalize the “Horns Down” gesture, a decision that would seem at odds with NCAA rules about unsportsmanlike conduct and the current Big 12 bylaws, it needs to alter those league bylaws so that Texas opponents can avoid the absurdity of attempting to figure out whether that gesture will be legal or illegal from week to week or play to play. Either codify it specifically in rules that apply from week to week and play to play it or just let it go.
No more “miscommunication.” No more weekly requests made to the league office for clarification. No more debates.
Just actual leadership and consistency.