Big 12-Bad Blood Football

In this Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown (5) gestures “horns down” as he celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a 77-yard reception against Texas.

ARLINGTON, Texas — It happened twice during West Virginia’s dramatic 42-41 win last season at Texas and has been a hot topic around the Big 12 ever since.

Former WVU receiver David Sills flashed the “Horns Down” hand sign at Texas fans after an early touchdown in last year’s game and was penalized for it. Then after former Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier ran for a game-winning 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter, he took the extra step of giving the Longhorn fans a double-barreled “Horns Down” salute. Grier was also hit with a penalty for his actions.

It left a lot of WVU fans, and fans around the Big 12 as well as the country, curious. If Texas is allowed to do it’s version of the signal with “Horns Up” then how come “Horns Down” is viewed as unsportsmanlike conduct?

Big 12 coordinator of officials Greg Burks was on hand Tuesday morning at the league’s Media Days and it did not take long for the question to come his way.

“The answer I will give you is it depends,” Burks said. “It’s like any unsportmanlike act. If somebody scores and quickly turns to their cheering section and it’s quick then they move on — we’re not going to do anything with that. If it’s to a bench or another player and it’s prolonged, it would be an unsportsmanlike act. 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.”

Burks said flashing the famous anti-Texas hand signal would be treated like any other touchdown celebration in the future.

“It’s a hot topic,” Burks said. “I know people want us to be definitive on that, but it’s like any touchdown celebration. Is it directed at an opponent or just [a] celebration with your teammates?”

Burks was asked specifically about the incident with Grier last season at Texas.

“That probably would be a foul in that situation,” Burks said. “When we have discussed it, by rule, anything that’s prolonged to bring attention to the individual rather than the team is a foul.”

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Forgive WVU receiver T.J. Simmons if he seemed a little distracted Tuesday in Texas.

Simmons and his girlfriend welcomed a baby girl — Leilani — to the world on Sunday just before the new father was due to depart for Big 12 Media Days.

So the question was asked, with a newborn at home, why come to this event halfway across the country?

“It was already planned,” Simmons said. “I was talking to my girl about it and she was taking days [of when people thought the baby would be born] down. I personally said the 17th so she would come when I got back, but she’s a stubborn baby and she came when she wanted.”

One thing working in Simmons’ favor when it comes to balancing his new life as a father and a football player is the example set by Grier last season. Grier, of course, was famously a dad when away from the field and Simmons said the example he set provides him a blueprint on how to be great at both parenting and football.

“[Grier’s example] helps me a lot,” Simmons said. “Just seeing how he approached the game. He came in and even though he had a daughter at home, he was still the first one in and one of the last ones to leave and made sure he took care of all the little things — from recovery to getting in the training room and tweaking little injures. Just seeing that, I know even though I’ve got a kid at home I can still focus on my craft and perfect my craft as much as I can. She’s going to be there and this is who I’m doing it for.”

•••

Third-year coach Matt Rhule walked into a mess when he took over the Baylor.

With two years under his belt with the Bears, Rhule appears to have Baylor pointed in the right direction after the appalling end to the Art Briles Era in Waco, Texas.

“I think the young people in our program are doing things as well as any team in college football,” Rhule said Tuesday. “We were second in the bowl games — only Clemson had more college graduates than we did. To have 10 guys in graduate school and to have guys doing the right things in the community — we’re not perfect but if you take a look at our program you would see a lot of people doing things the right way and striving to achieve at a high level. It hasn’t been easy.”

•••

In addition to attempting to find some clarity on the “Horns Down” issue, Burks also spoke about some of the rule changes coming to college football this season.

n Overtime will be slightly different. After four OTs, teams will go straight to 2-point conversions.

n Targeting calls will also get some changes for 2019. All targeting must be reviewed, and all elements of targeting must be confirmed on the review for a player to be kicked out of the game.

“It’s a little bit of a distinction in that in the past a call on the field would stand if there wasn’t anything to demonstrate that all elements were present,” Burks said. “So in the replay booth this year, all elements of targeting must present themselves or the call will be overturned.

“The biggest change in the rule book this year that demonstrates targeting is the word ‘attacking.’ We are looking for those plays when a player is attacking another player. We have had some targeting fouls in the past where a player really is not initiating the contact but there has been helmet-to-helmet. Without that attacking piece, targeting will not stand this year.”

Contact Tom Bragg at tom.bragg@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports. Read Tom’s WVU sports blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wvu/