Among the more intriguing suggestions from World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn has been his stated intention that all players should start tournaments in the same round.
This is a long term plan and one which will be controversial. It illustrates a divide in professional sport between what is considered ‘fair’ and the commercial realities which sustain the level of prize money available.
An example: the circuit is set to increase to 128 players. However, the Crucible can only take 32 players under its current format.
Therefore, if every player entered the World Championship in the same round we could be left with a field of unfamiliar names.
So what, you might argue. The best will come through, the others will fall by the wayside.
Well maybe. But when snooker is relying on revenue from broadcasters and sponsors, the importance of star names cannot be underestimated. These are the players which draw viewers, interest sponsors and persuade TV companies to screen tournaments.
Ever since a professional circuit was established there has been protection for higher ranked players, but they have earned this by starting at the bottom and rising up the rankings.
For many years the top 32 players in the world were exempt until the last 64 stage, where they usually had to win one, sometimes two, matches to reach the televised phase of ranking events.
This changed around a decade ago after pressure from broadcasters who found several top players were missing from line-ups of tournaments that they (the broadcasters) were effectively bankrolling.
So it was that the top 16 became exempt until the last 32. The knock-on effect of this has been a labyrinthine qualifying system which has arguably made it harder for players to come through, creating stagnation in the game.
Hearn’s argument is that players should not be seeded through to the final stages but earn their place. Top players would doubtless say they have already earned their place by securing such a high ranking.
However, although there is qualifying for Wimbledon, Federer and Nadal don’t get put through to the last 32, they start in the last 128 with everyone else.
The difference, though, is that Wimbledon is televised from this point. For the World Championship to be run along the same lines it would need to be played in a much bigger venue and have its matches dramatically shortened, neither of which would be popular with players or fans.
What has been interesting about the PTCs, certainly the televised ones, is that the top players invariably come through and win. I think this would still happen under Hearn’s radical plan, but many would also fall by the wayside.
This would help new faces emerge but could equally lead to a situation where the general viewer doesn’t really recognise anyone due to there being so many different faces on their TV screens.
A player’s perspective on all this will of course depend on where they are ranked. A top 16 player would, I suspect, be appalled by the prospect. Those further down the list would be more likely to relish it, although the idea of playing Judd Trump in the last 128 isn’t really one to punch the air about.
I think Hearn will find it difficult to persuade broadcasters of this shift, regardless of its merits.
If you are paying millions for the right to show a tournament you also have the right to expect the elements which draw in viewers and – like it or not – that includes star names.
But that is not to say the system cannot be altered to reflect these changing times. Perhaps a couple of ranking events should be played like this, preferably all at the venue with no need for qualifying at all.