I'm going to assume based on Texas' turnout and the size of Bluebonnet that there were plenty of judges that entered but didn't judge. Along that line, could we have a sizable price break on the entry fee for those that have signed up to judge? There would be kinks to work out in terms of those promising to judge not showing up, but if the competition doesn't have enough volunteers then who better to encourage to volunteer than the participants?
More, smaller regions sounds good; we could have had 10+ judges from my town instead of just me if it wasn't several hours away. On the other hand the more regions there are the more it seems like the mead/cider&perry judges would be stretched pretty thin. Wasn't a lack of perry judges part of the reason for Nashville's delay? (my apologies if I'm incorrect) I know some of the mead categories were the last judged in DFW as well.
I keep thinking it should be run like a club-only competition in terms of clubs signing up to judge a certain categories and everyone ships those categories to them, but I can't find a way to avoid insane shipping costs for those that enter many categories. With something like 600 stouts you'd still need several sites that judged this category, but perhaps only 1 or 2 that did fruit beer. I guess if people limit their entries to their "best" beers and multiple club members ship together it would solve SOME of the problem but not all. Like I said, I keep trying to figure out how it'd work but I can't see it yet.
I guess the best I can come up with at the moment is 20 locations each allowing 500 beers in Category 1-23, with a few separate locations signing up for mead/cider& perry, and increased entry fee but reduced entry fee for those that judge, and going back to two days of final round judging (but schedule so they're not missing so much of the conference. - I'm sure this is easier said than done!) Finally, start the 1st round earlier so people have a reasonable chance to incorporate feedback into re-brew efforts.
I get that no one wants two days of judging in the final round, but at the current size it looks like the competition is stretched to get done in two rounds, and I see no reason to expect anything but continued growth in interest in this hobby (addiction?) Add another round, add an extra judging-only day to the final round, add extra locations, limit 1st round advances, limit entries, two-year competition with half the categories judged each year, limit entries to anything that's already won an award in a sanctioned competition, whatever...
I don't have the answers, and the NHC is great as it is right now. With a little effort it'll stay that way while allowing even more growth. I don't envy the competition committee in terms of figuring this stuff out!
it's an interesting problem to have...too many people are brewing!