One potential solution, in my opinion, would be to establish a mandatory minimum number of teams for a bid-receiving state (perhaps a certain percentage of the total number of teams) and group exceedingly small states into regions, giving one bid to each of these regions.
For example, DC and Maryland could be made into the "Mid-Atlantic Region" with that region receiving one bid. The same could be done to VT and NH, or RI and MA, or something like that. Or, you could just force DC schools to compete in Maryland, which would be functionally the same. But the point is that a state with as few teams as VT, WY, or DC (not a state, but you know what I mean) should be forced into a little more competition in order to get to nats. This would also be valuable because it will increase the competitiveness of these small states and hopefully drive teams to work harder and achieve more competitive performance at nationals.
I think this option is a good compromise because it allows all teams to have the chance to make nationals (including DC teams, for example). In fact, some teams will still have a relatively easy path to nationals (if MD and DC were combined, for example, the resulting region would still not be that competitive aside from Centennial). Yet at the same time it preserves the ability for more states, like TX, to have a second bid.
As for certain states getting 3 bids... that's a different discussion, IMO. For one, these "conversations" that you speak of are probably not as widespread as you think. Are you talking about conversations on the forums? Because those ideas resurface regularly; it's not exactly a novel idea. Plus, I'm guessing the conversations aren't occurring where they actually matter, which is with NSO. Of course, it could be that you're referring to discussions at NSO I haven't heard about, in which case I misunderstood.
I also think that you have to keep in mind the effect of state organizations and other factors on state performance. Take NC for example -- probably the lowest-performing 2-bid state (although I think NC will outpace FL at nats this year and for several years onward due to rising competition and us FINALLY getting an invitational within driving distance). NCSO does not do much to encourage competitiveness. Our state tournament is well run, but: A) It's one of the latest state tournaments, occurring April 21, B) We have many event alterations at states each year (2 national events removed and 3 NC-only events added, which is actually a pretty mild year for us), C) We have an abhorrent lack of invitationals in NC -- the closest ones being 4 hours away, out of state, and not that competitive -- but thankfully the Duke invite will change that next year.
This idea's kind of rough, so I'm interested in what you all think of it:
- First, NSO determines how many 2-bid states there can be, whether using the current formula of every state getting a bid or using the region idea I provided above. We'll call that number X, and it's decided before the season begins.
- Then, NSO looks at the national results from more than the top X states in terms of popularity (say, the top X+5 teams). That wording was confusing, so let me exemplify it. Let's say 10 2-bid teams are allowed this year. NSO looks at the top 15 states in terms of number of schools competing and gives the 10 second bids to the 10 best of those 15 states in terms of national performance from the previous year. I know that ranking national performance isn't easy, but it can be done.
- But there's a caveat here: the 5 states that did not receive a second bid this year will get one guaranteed next year -- but the year after that they'll either earn it or lose it. In this scenario, the top 5 2-bid states will keep their 2nd bids every single year as long as they stay in the top 5. Teams 6-15 will sometimes lose their second bids, but it will still be based around performance.
Last random note: who cares if DC is a state? What matters is that they have teams that deserve a shot at going to nationals. The problem is that they are incredibly small in number, but their political classification is arbitrary. If DC had incredibly competitive, TX/CA/OH level schools (unlikely I know, but this is a hypothetical), would they still be disallowed from attending nationals due to "not being a state"? No, the argument that DC is too small to be taking one of TX's bids is absolutely valid, but their statehood has literally nothing to do with this.