League heads update season planning

By Alex Mitchell

Football and netball league bosses across the region remain in the dark regarding when their seasons will start as they patiently wait for the Victorian Government to ease its coronavirus-related restrictions.

With a state of emergency enforced until May 11, plus AFL Victoria recommending and enforcing a postponement on football until May 31, leagues are working on a number of contingency plans in order to run a season in the back half of the year.

All four leagues — Goulburn Valley League, Murray Football Netball League, Kyabram District League and Picola District Football Netball League — agreed games would not be played without crowds in attendance, primarily due to the financial impact that would have on clubs, making a return immediately after May 31 a long-shot.

KDL operations manager Nathaniel Dedman said he feared crowd sizes that would make playing games possible were not on the horizon, casting a serious shadow of doubt across the entire season.

“My way of thinking is I don't know how massive crowds would be allowed (after May 11), and we can't play footy without them, so that could rule us out,” Dedman said.

“But the executive will meet after that to assess the government recommendations.

“I can't speak on behalf of the league, just myself, but my personal opinion is it would be financial suicide to play with no crowds. There wouldn't be any clubs just sitting there with that much money in the bank, there's eight to 10 fundraising options that just wouldn't be there.”

With a number of plans worked up, Dedman said a minimum of 10 games would be needed for a season, putting the idea of a multiple conference system on the table should further delays to the start of the campaign be necessary.

MFL general manager Dale Norman still hoped a June 6 start would be possible, with that allowing his league to culminate with grand final day on October 3.

“My opinion, we'd love to see each club play the others once, a June 6 start would allow that, and anything after that we'd be starting to look outside the box,” Norman said.

“That could be something like two conferences, east and west, playing each other once or one-and-a-half times, and going for a Super Bowl effect for that final four. That's a bit outside the box and we hope we don't need to do that.”

The GVL will only play if every team can play each other once, but operations manager Josephine Spencer said planning for a season was tough before May 11's update.

“There's contingency plans in place, the board and the presidents have met several times talking through the different scenarios,” Spencer said.

“But it's all conjecture, it's really hard to say what we'll do until we know more.”

Three leagues said salary caps would be reduced this season — and likely moving forward — although PDFNL operations manager Shane Railton said his clubs had indicated no interest in doing so.

“There'll be no change to the salary cap, some leagues are floating that, but that won't be the case with us,” Railton said.

“So many of our clubs are farming-orientated, and to this point, farming hasn't really stopped. Some think it's going to be their best year in quite some time.”

Railton also floated segregating crowds into home and away sections as a potential way around expected limits.

And each league predicts a different cut-off date as to when its season must be wrapped up; the MFL hoped it could push into the first weekend of October, the KDL said it would need to have its season finished by the end of October, while the GVL has also floated the possibility of pushing into November.