STILLWATER — Pick a name, any name. Or, how about five?
This simple scenario happened before the college football season. A group of papers were tossed into a pot, and five were drawn out at random.
On those papers were the names Art Briles, Gary Pinkel, Paul Rhoads, Bob Stoops and Tommy Tuberville.
Those five coaches became the voters in the USA Today Coaches' poll from the Big 12 Conference for the 2011 football season.
Since Oklahoma State lost out on the chance to play for the national championship by a minuscule margin — less than nine thousandths of a point — in the final Bowl Championship Series standings, the two human polls that each make up one-third of the system's formula have been analyzed and scrutinized.
Why didn't Cowboy coach Mike Gundy have a vote when Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles and Stanford's David Shaw did?
Why do polls voted on by coaches, who clearly do not have the time or ability to watch a full slate of college football games each week, play such a critical role in which teams play for the national championship?
To answer the first question, Grant Teaff, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, illustrated the scenario above and the sheer chance involved.
To answer the second question, Teaff said that as long as voters and polls are part of the BCS system, the coaches want a voice.
“Our coaches feel very strongly that if there is going to be a process (to determine who plays for the national championship), they want to be a part of it,” said Teaff, the former coach at Baylor.
“If something better comes along, then trust me, they'd be more than happy to relinquish our position as part of the selection process.”
So, how does it all work?
The coaches' poll, which has been around for more than 60 years, undergoes the same voter selection process each year.
First, being in the pool of potential voters is optional. Some coaches simply don't want the responsibility, Teaff said.
Then, all willing voters are separated by conference. Those names are put into a pot, and half the number of member schools are drawn. That means the Big 12 has five voters, the SEC has six, the Pac-12 has six, and so on. And that way, the votes are spread across the country.
“There's not 10 voters in one conference and five voters in another,” Teaff said. “I voted for 20-something years, and you better believe I knew my conference teams better than I knew those in California and the East Coast. That's why you have balance.”
The only time Gundy has been pulled out of the pot was his first season in 2005. Pinkel has been picked four years in a row. Rhoads, Dan Hawkins and Dennis Franchione have all voted more than Gundy since he took over as OSU's head coach.
Again, pure chance.
Teaff continues to believe in the validity of the coaches' poll, and he doesn't see any major changes coming in the future.
There will always be select coaches who do not want to vote, making it difficult to increase the number of ballots while still keeping the poll balanced.
The Gallup World Poll, which was recently brought in to study the coaches' poll, recommended that all votes be kept private throughout the season. But the coaches decided that transparency on that final ballot was important, which is why that is still released each season.
And Gundy said earlier this season that he took the responsibility very seriously when he was a voter in 2005. He half-joked that he would not let anyone else in the athletic department fill the ballot out for him, debunking the theory that no coaches are actually doing the voting themselves.
Gundy, by chance, did not get the opportunity to vote for his Cowboys — or any other team — in 2011. And whether he participates in the voting process in 2012 all depends on if his name is drawn out of the pot.