Second-division participants in the Europa League are rather uncommon, but not entirely rare. In addition to the aforementioned Millwall, in the past decade we've also had Alemannia Aachen (Germany), En Avant Guingamp (France), Atvidabergs (Sweden) and just this past season Lausanne-Sport (Switzerland). Lausanne somehow knocked off Lokomotiv Moscow(!!) Let's not forget the 2000 Coupe de France
, when an amateur fourth-division team was thisclose
to European qualification.
IIRC, the end of the old European Cup and the establishment of the Champions League format played a significant part in the demise of the Cup Winners' Cup. In the old days, the EC was a straight knockout tournament, two legs, until there was just one club left. One country, one club -- plus the defending champion. When the CL was established and the larger countries entered multiple clubs into the tournament, the overlap between CL entrants and domestic cup champions grew. The Cup Winners' Cup quickly became the Cup Final Losers' Cup.
So the CWC was folded into the UEFA Cup, which was later re-branded and re-formatted as the Europa League. The Europa League is indeed a tedious competition at times and could use some alterations to its format. I'm not sure if you can change the qualification method; if you shut the cup winners out of European play, domestic cups will become utterly irrelevant. Perhaps a competition like the FA Cup, which carries a lot of historical weight/tradition/inertia would be okay, but in most places cups would transition from an anachronistic annoyance to an outright waste of time.
Ultimately, though, the CWC and UEFA Cup/EL were hurt by the expansion of the Champions League more than anything else. They were deprived of the #2, #3, #4 teams of the top countries and the next tier down doesn't provide for as compelling a competition in the end.
Edited by Titans Bastard, 23 May 2011 - 12:43 PM.