INDIANAPOLIS -- John Shulman understands the math behind the possible/probable notion of expanding the NCAA men's basketball tournament to 96 teams. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach just isn't sure the equation will deliver the answer that he and other mid-major coaches desire.
"If it means two bids for leagues like the Southern Conference, I'm all for it," Shulman, who has reached the tournament twice in his six seasons at UTC, said as he shopped for Final Four souvenirs with his sons outside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.
"But if it winds up that you're taking the 12th or 13th team from the Big East instead of the second team from our league, then I'm not going to be for it. We've still got to see what the proposal is."
The proposal really isn't even a proposal at this point. It's an idea the NCAA floated to the media this past week.
As the NCAA's Greg Shaheen noted during a news conference, "All of this comes against the backdrop, against the reality that there's a (broadcast) agreement right now through 2013, in terms of the (tournament). So this could be a lot of discussion about nothing."
It could be, but Shaheen also was quick to note, "Conversations are literally happening on an ongoing basis and dedicated to the timeline of July 31st as the date we must make the final decision."
Just don't try telling that to longtime ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer Dick Vitale, who believes the move to 96 has already been signed, sealed and delivered.
"My gut feeling is that it's not if it goes," Vitale said Friday. "I think a decision has already been made; it just needs to be official.
"But down deep I'm insulted when you start telling me (as the NCAA has) that it's not going to water down the product. You're telling me you can take 13 teams from one conference and it not water down the product? At this level, you're supposed to reward excellence. This isn't my grandkids' little league, where everybody gets a trophy. If we're going this far, let's just open up to everybody, just let everybody in.
"I'd just rather them be direct and up front and say, 'We're having financial problems. We think, revenue-wise, this is going to be an incredible help.'"
But help to whom?
Geoff Cabe is the senior assistant commissioner of the Southern Conference. Until a proposal is in writing and details are provided, he isn't sure whether he's for or against expansion.
But he already knows one aspect of the current format that would be a certain deal-breaker among pure mid-major leagues like the Southern if it were lessened under a new model.
"Our league currently receives roughly $1.4 million over a six-year period for a first-round win," Cabe said. "That money's very important to us. Obviously, we'd like to see them include more mid-major teams in the field if it was expanded to 96. But it could be devastating to us if those payouts for an opening-round win were cut."
So how would it work, at least in theory? Eight teams in each of the four regionals would begin with byes. Each of the remaining 64 would play an opening-round game -- the No. 9 seed in each regional would play No. 24, No. 10 play No. 23, etc. -- on the first Thursday and Friday following Selection Sunday. Those winners would advanced to the second round against the bye teams.
At that point, it returns to the 64-team tournament we've all known. It would still play out in three weeks, though the first weekend would run into Monday and Tuesday, shortening the gap between the round of 32 and the Sweet 16.
There also is the probability that the NIT would be terminated, since the 32 teams that played in it this season presumably would have been invited to the NCAA tournament. When the NIT was forced to take 16-16 North Carolina to fill out its field, it's inconceivable that another 32 teams could be found to complete an NIT format.
As for Vitale's argument that the tournament is perfect as is, Shaheen noted that 75 of the 88 championships conducted by the NCAA have expanded over the past 10 years, though college basketball's has not.
"It's going to water down the tournament," Shulman said. "Look at this year. I don't know that you could find 96 teams that deserved to be in it. And it may not help coaches as much as some people think. With so many schools going, a (high major) coach could get fired for not getting to the second round."
So now we apparently wait, expecting some changes but uncertain what they might become.
But just for argument's sake, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas delivered a final contrary view.
"From a purely competitive standpoint, I would ask this of our college presidents," the Duke graduate said. "Would you consider the relaxing the requirements for magna cum laude to include C students? Because if we extend the NCAA tourney field to 96 teams, we're going to have more than a few C grade basketball teams."
At that point we'll begin to learn how many C grade teams it will take to dilute the NCAA's grade A event.