I have two things to say about all this, the first is related to comps, and the second is technical and I need to do a bit more research first so I'll post that later. The first part:
TL;DR: Get rid of the current competition system. Replace it with two separate comps, one which is judging/feedback ONLY (no winning awards) and another which is ONLY awards, but with no categories. BOS-type stuff.
OK now long-form: It seems to me that there are two camps when it comes to these comps. Those who are looking for feedback on their beers, to help improve, and those who want to win awards. There is of course crossover between the two groups, but I'm sure there are plenty of people who only want feedback and don't care about awards (me, for example) and there are also plenty of people who only want to win awards and are confident in their brewing practices etc.
The problem as I see it is that not enough of either group are getting to do what they want to do. We can fix this by creating two separate judging events, one technical, one 'pleasure.'
The technical judging event would include all 38 flavors (or whatever) of BJCP categories. Each beer would be judged by a BJCP-certified judge, and scored according to BJCP guidelines. I would say a bit of 'you should try doing X to improve this beer' would be warranted in the feedback section. Anybody who wanted to get feedback on their beers would be able to do so, and you'd probably see MORE entries because you take away the competitive element that might scare some people away. Judged, but not JUDGED, as it were.
Now here's where I may get into toe-stepping-on-territory: The other event - the taste- and pleasure-oriented competition - would use exactly zero BJCP guidelines. None. You enter whatever beers you think are your best, regardless of style, perceived flaws, etc. Your beers will be judged along the lines of: "Is this a beer that I'd like to share with my friends?" "If I saw that a pub had this on draft, would I go out of my way to stop by and have a pint?" "Does this beer inspire me?" Judges would not need to have BJCP certification, and thus anybody could volunteer to judge. Obviously they would need to have an appreciation of beer, and would need to try to be open to any style of beer, but there's no reason why they'd have to have passed any test. This sort of competition could also potentially serve as a bit of evangelism for the BJCP program as a whole - you show people, who would never have normally considered doing BJCP, that judging can be fun, and get them interested, and get them on the BJCP exam track, and then eventually they can become technical judges.
I think that only allowing the 'pleasure' contest to be allowed to earn awards would actually do a lot for advancing our hobby. People would not feel bound to any specific category, and creating a new award for 'most innovative homebrew' would get people thinking about how they could approach the creation of interesting beer, as opposed to beer that matches an arbitrary style. This is NOT to say that I think BJCP guidelines are worthless, far from it. For people either exploring a style, or trying to increase their technical proficiency, fixed goals like that are excellent. I wouldn't have learned how to make lagers if it hadn't been for the CAP subcategory, nor would I have known what to have expected when drinking it afterwards, due to the lack of any examples out in my neck of the woods.
I have two anecdotes as pertains to the idea of dropping categories for award-eligible brews:
The first comes from my friend Laurent, who is the former president of the European Beer Consumers Union, and has judged in just about every contest known to man. We have gone back and forth over categories for about two years now, and he has always taken then anti-category stance. I used to be firmly in the categories4evah camp, but he's slowly warmed me up to the other side. So the other day, he told me about a horrific judging session he did (I think it was @ GABF) where it was time to judge category 21A. Everybody and their mother had decided to enter a Pumpkin beer. After the first sample, every beer tasted pretty much the same. A page came up with water & crackers during a break and said, "Hey guys, having fun?" and Laurent said he told the page that he'd be happy to trade places (or that he wanted to slap the guy in the face, I can't remember which one). After a while everything tasted like some mixture of cinnamon, clove, or allspice. There was just one beer that was truly interesting, an imperial stout with an aroma that was actually roast pumpkin, and not pumpkin pie. Just one beer like that, out of 35 or so. He told me that as he saw it, that was the problem with categories, that everybody eventually ends up submitting the same beer. Great for education, bad for competitions.
The second comes from Garrett Oliver, who told me about a time he was judging the grand final for GABF alongside Michael Jackson. Michael asked everybody to quiet down for a moment and told them he wanted to say something before they started judging.
He said (I paraphrase here): "I want to tell you a story about my very first beer experience. I lived in a little village in England and there was this pub that everyone absolutely adored. It seemed like the entire town would come out to drink their beer on Friday or Saturday nights.
The atmosphere was amazing, the people were wonderful, but of course the main reason everybody had come together and created this atmosphere was the beer. The bar, and the beer itself, had a smell that would stick to you, permeate your clothes, and the next morning the lingering smell could bring back smiles when you would remember the time you spent with friends the night before.
Now, once I started really getting into beer, and understanding things like 'styles' and 'faults' and 'off-flavors,' I discovered where that smell had come from - the smell that everyone in my village associated with a fun place to have a good pint and enjoy the company of friends. And that smell was diacetyl.
So I would just like to ask you, when you go to judge these world-calibre beers, to keep in mind that experience, and ask yourself a little more of, "is this a beer that I would go out of my way to share with friends?" and a little less of "this beer has 0.075 microns of ethyl acetate."
That's my $0.02 anyway.