I agree with you. The reason I included raising the popularity of the sport in my list was specifically because that seemed to be the reason for the thread that sparked this debate on the Runner’s World forums, and it was discussed in another thread on this forum.
Personally, I think the current system achieves its primary goal — to select the best U.S. marathoners for the Olympic team. I think if you want to improve the current system, you should build around it, not change it.
It would probably be a logistical nightmare, but I think it would be cool to have short races (5K and 10K) on a Friday evening followed by a post-race party where the people who qualified for the trials could be introduced and mingle with the race participants. This could be followed by a people’s marathon on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s marathon trials on Sunday. It would be a complete runners weekend.