I don't know what the answer is...... but, ultimately the problem is pretty simple. For a long time big clubs, in big metropolitan areas that have the ability to draw from a million+ people won the award. Along came a club that had the ability to draw from an even bigger pool of people, has more members and gets more people to participate.... so, now they win all the time. The clubs that are no longer the biggest want the rules changed so that they are the biggest clubs again.... In the end, you are simply swapping one big club with huge reach, for several big clubs with more reach than almost everyone else. The VAST majority of clubs still have zero chance of winning the award in this structure.
Excluding the BN just means the same group of large clubs go back to battling over a prize only they are able to win and seemingly feel they are only entitled to win. The award is no more exclusionary and no more of a popularity contest. These clubs just want to rig the rules so they go back to winning. It's an extremely elitist perspective and I don't see how the GC can fairly think redesigning the rules specifically to exclude BNA or other internet groups is consistent with the AHA's mission to expand homebrewing.
The underlying implication of changing the rules to exclude the BNA, aside from giving the urban clubs back their COTY award, is the message that the relationships and involvement of people in the BNA is inferior to those who associate with a physical club, no matter how organized or involved that physical club may be. Again I do not agree that creating rules designed to exclude or devalue the participation of some people in the hobby is consistent with the AHA's mission.
Some combination of like-sized clubs, and/or reward for consistency of entering quality beer seems to be the only way to make this award meaningful and truly competitive from year to year.
I don't know that the award is really meaningful in any way but balancing multiple awards against club sizes is probably the best way to create some fairness that doesn't turn the award into an exclusive game of internet and large urban clubs. It doesn't, by itself at least, do anything to avoid BN winning the largest tier and I can't imagine the large urban clubs not throwing a huge fit over that. So I guess the GC could create an internet club section in which BNA will always win. There's also going to be a fight over where the lines are drawn between tiers. Nobody is going to want to be on the bottom of a tier when they could be on the top of the lower tier.
The probability for gamesmanship still exists here where clubs will inevitably contemplate cutting off membership numbers or rolling people off the roster to cut size to gain a numerical advantage in a lower tier. There has already been talk in this thread of clubs discouraging new brewers from entering NHC to avoid poor numbers against the Gambrinus so the probability of this gamesmanship occurring for COTY is almost certain. Again I can't see how the GC can adopt rules that has such a high probability of making people feel unwelcome in homebrewing.