Would a revamp revive the FA Cup - or ruin it?
Ahead of a quarter-final weekend that appears likely to be dominated by talk of teams with other priorities fielding weakened line-ups, it is timely to tackle what is becoming a familiar question - how to arrest the seemingly inevitable decline of the FA Cup?
The Football Association has been discussing it for a while now, ever since former chief executive Ian Watmore unveiled some radical plans to revamp the tournament at the start of 2010 in fact, but little has changed yet.
On paper, the FA's task looks difficult. How do they reinvigorate a competition currently trading largely on nostalgia and attract a younger audience, without upsetting traditionalists who want to protect the 139 years of history on which its famous folklore has been built?
By doing so, can they keep the big fish at the top (and bottom) of the Premier League happy as well as the minnows looking to write their own Cup fairytales and stay afloat by cashing in? And where do their commercial partners, who sponsor and broadcast the tournament, fit into the decision-making process... not to mention you lot - the punters who pay to go and watch the games?
Chelsea's players get their hands on the FA Cup trophy at Wembley last year. Photo: Getty.
In reality it is an even tougher problem to solve. For a start, not everyone at the FA, let alone elsewhere within the game or the general public, has an appetite for the innovations being considered.
The most drastic of these appear to be the introduction of seedings and the abolition of replays. The latter would seemingly appeal to the big-boys looking to avoid fixture congestion, but definitely not help the smaller clubs who would miss out on much-needed extra revenue.
Take Leyton Orient for example, a club who had already done well out of the Cup this season even before their home fifth-round tie against Arsenal kicked off, with the TV money from their game with the Gunners taking the total their run had generated to about £800,000 - enough to see them break even for this year.
Their Cup story did not finish there, though. Jonathan Tehoue's last-gasp equaliser earned the O's an unlikely replay at the Emirates, a just reward for a battling performance by their players. I was at Brisbane Road and, however dramatic extra-time and penalties might have been, I would have left feeling slightly cheated if the League One side had been eliminated in that manner.
In my eyes, Arsenal had to play the extra game because they did not get the job done at the first time of asking. Even Gunners boss Arsene Wenger said Orient deserved a second chance.
They got it - meaning a rare outing on a Premier League pitch for their players, a great night out for their fans (despite a heavy defeat) and around £750,000 extra cash in the coffers, enough to tide the club over for 2012 too. As far as I am concerned, that outweighs the inconvenience of an extra game to a Premier League club.
Orient's chief executive Matt Porter, who has to balance the books for the League One side, told me: "This season we have had first-hand experience of some of the things that are being talked about by the FA - and getting rid of replays is not something we would agree with, for obvious reasons. In fact, we wouldn't agree with it regardless of what has happened to us this year."
Maybe seedings are seen as a way of softening the financial blow for smaller teams if replays are abolished, by increasing the chances of them meeting a big club in the third round, and supposedly throwing up more giant-killing opportunities too. But I can't help thinking that by trying to manufacture Cup magic, the FA would only end up diluting it.
After all, another key ingredient of the Cup is romance, and a kind draw currently allows a plucky underdog (I would use Crawley as an example here, were they not so unpopular with the masses) to progress deep into the competition. Not only that, but the tie of this year's third round was Manchester United's win over Liverpool, featuring the return of King Kenny.
Seedings would reduce the chance of the former and deny us any repeat of the latter. Will that really help the Cup's profile? From a financial point of view, Porter can at least understand an argument for bringing them in, though, but still feels they would "go against the spirit of the competition".
Empty seats at this season's third round tie between Reading and West Brom. Photo: Getty.
Surely that is exactly what the FA should be looking to protect and, if possible, enhance. And some of their other suggestions do make sense.
As long as third-round weekend is recognised to be an integral part of our football calendar and kept sacrosanct, then switching subsequent rounds to midweek would not do any harm, and possibly do some good if designated space can be found in an already crowded calendar. Similarly, talk of moving the final from 3.00pm to a Saturday evening kick-off would probably not bother fans as much as it might have done 20 years ago - everyone is used to games starting at all times these days anyway.
The FA has already begun efforts to drum up more youthful interest - for example by getting Noel Gallagher and Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno to make the draw for round three, taking the trophy to Afghanistan or introducing a trophy for giant-killing feats, but obviously more needs to be done to bring back the crowds.
It strikes me that the only way to get top-flight fans interested in the Cup again is to make it matter to managers too. Giving the winners a Champions League place is the only way to do so, although it is unlikely to happen.
Uefa president Michel Platini is keen, and you would think three-quarters of English top-flight clubs would be too, but the idea got short thrift from the Premier League and other major European leagues when he floated it in 2008. Only awarding the Cup an additional place would change that situation, but it is not something that is being seriously considered this time.
It's a shame. I remember speaking to Stoke boss Tony Pulis about the Cup last season - when their top-flight status was looking a good-deal more secure - and he made it clear that points, rather than prizes, took precedence.
Even though they have not been in a Cup semi-final since 1972, many Potters fans will doubtless feel the same about Sunday's last-eight tie with the Hammers, especially as they are now only three points clear of the drop zone in the league.
Whatever the FA decide, this is a crucial time for the Cup, with talks ongoing with new sponsors to replace the deal with E. ON that ends this year and the agreement with main broadcaster ITV expiring in 2012 (although secondary rights holder ESPN have a deal lasting until 2014).
Any alterations to the format will have to wait until the start of the 2012/13 season because it is too late to implement them for the next campaign.
But, whether the world's oldest knockout competition is overhauled or merely tweaked, some changes seem inevitable and yes, they must be made to keep the Cup relevant. At the moment, there are too many second-string sides and empty seats.
You can follow me throughout the season on Twitter @chrisbevan_bbc