Lots of good thoughts here on ways to change the competition to improve it. The AHA Competition Committee talked through a lot of these rules issues and made the changes we did for a variety of reasons. This committee does not deal with the technical side, ie registration software, so I can't speak to why any of those problems occurred or how they can be addressed.
The fifteen entry cap - we made this change to free up spots for more people to enter, although we recognized that this is a fairly small change. There are not that many who enter more than 15 to begin with, as someone pointed out the average is less than 5. We could have gone lower and may drop this limit in the future, but thought this was a good step that considered the interests of those wishing to enter and those trying to win the Ninkasi Award.
We also considered limiting entries to start, increasing fees as entries increase (first three are $x, next three are $x+$2, etc), and several other things. These were rejected for a variety of reasons - for example, if we limit it to 5 "to start" that is effectively a 5 entry imit. Not everyone would hit the limit, but it would not suddenly open it up for everyone to enter at a leisurely pace. There would still be a frantic rush for everyone to get their entries in and the competition would sell out in the same amount of time. We don't even have enough spots to limit entries to one per member. A lottery system could be put in place, but then you have to win the lottery and then win the competition. That is a huge change and I'm not sure it would be very popular, but we will talk about it again.
We discussed the possibility of eliminating the Ninkasi Award - it is not off the table in the future either. We weren't ready to this year but if we feel it is in the best interest of the competition then that is what we will recommend. When there is a 20 or 50 way tie it is kind of meaningless - that (or before then) is when it will be time (IMO).
We considered adding a round to the competition, making it 3 rounds. This increases costs to the point it would not work without raising entry fees a lot, plus requiring many many more regions be managed. It also backs up the starting point for the first round so registration would start in December and we'd have judging in February, April, and June. And you would need that many more bottles to enter each beer. This is not completely off the table, but it's not a great solution.
We also considered the situation where only beers that qualified in other competitions could be entered. Personally I think this goes against the spirit of the NHC, where anyone can win. I think the inclusiveness is one of this competitions greatest strengths. We rejected the idea of a dramatic increase in the cost for the same reason (+1 Kai).
We considered adding entries
to each region, but many of the regions are already at the limit of what they can judge. We considered adding regions
, but lack areas with enough qualified judges to judge 750 beers who also have organizers willing to shoulder the burden, and this could lead to problems judging the additional entries in the second round. We considered cutting the limit to 500 per region while increasing the number of regions, but this floods the 2nd round with too many entries to be judged effectively. And on and on and on.
In the end we are between a rock and a hard place. The rock being the number of people who wish to enter, and the hard place being the number of beers that can be judged in a timely and effective manner. Maybe we should limit entries to those who judged in the previous year's competition? That would reduce demand and probably increase judges in short order.
Hopefully with the new BJCP exam the number of judges will increase faster so we will be able to add more first round sites or increase the size of existing sites. As demand for the conference expands we will hopefully have more judges there for the second round and can add regions for the first round without worrying about overwhelming the second round. We are trying to grow the competition, but we have to do it in a way that maintains the overall quality.
My hope is that this year's second round shows that we are able to handle a few hundred more entries in the second round in future years. Every 84 more entries we can get judged Thursday of the conference gives us the ability to add another regional judging center, or another 750 entries overall. As the ability to handle entries in the second round expands, the need for more places that can take 750 entries (or more) will increase. So become a judge - I know, that takes time and money, and finding a spot for the tasting exam is a pain, but unless we get more judges we are still getting crushed under a two ton heavy thing.
In the end we will increase capacity as much as we can, but we will have to come up with ways to decrease demand. Needless to say we will be discussing this a lot over the coming year.