THE state of football in north-west Victoria will come under scrutiny in a major structural review announced by AFL Victoria Country on Thursday.
The AFL Wimmera Mallee, AFL Central Victoria and AFL Central Murray commissions will band together for the review with AFL Victoria Country.
The review will address uncertainty about the short and medium-term structure of competitions in the state’s north-west.
The review framework will be announced to all stakeholders on September 5.
It is due to be completed by June 2015, with its recommendations to be implemented in the 2016 season.
Until the completion of the review, all clubs in the area of the three commissions will remain in their current leagues.
AFL Wimmera Mallee Region General Manager Bruce Petering said stability was needed until the review was complete.
“With the recent potential of clubs merging and the possibility of seeking alternative leagues, it is imperative that the situation is managed properly,” he said.
“Every action has a reaction - if one piece of the jigsaw puzzle is moved then it has far-reaching effects on many other elements of the puzzle.”
The announcement provides relief for the Mallee Football League, which faced rumours it would disband after this year.
“If the league survives, it survives, but it’s more about having somewhere for the local kids to play footy.''
A proposed merger between Hopetoun and Beulah would have reduced the league to six teams, half the number the league started with in 1997.
Jeparit-Rainbow officials met with the Horsham District Football Netball League late last month to ensure the club had somewhere to go if the Mallee league disbanded.
Mallee president Ross Turnbull said he was unsure how the review would affect the merger move between Beulah and Hopetoun, which had both voted in favour of the proposal.
Mr Turnbull said the review would quash rumours about the league’s future and provide a clear path forward.
“It’s something that needed to happen, and it needed to happen sooner rather than later,” he said.
“It should quiet the speculation about the league for a little bit but in the end it’s not about the league, it’s about the clubs surviving.
“If the league survives, it survives, but it’s more about having somewhere for the local kids to play footy.
“Hopefully the outcome is what is best for all the clubs in the area, and all the stakeholders are heard.”
North Central Football League general manager Lance Standfield said the review needed time to assess football in the region.
“It gives everyone a bit of time to think about what could happen in the future and to prepare well for it,” he said.
“The board’s view on it here was to make sure the seven clubs of the NCFL stuck together.
“That was something we had as our number one priority.”
Mr Standfield said diminishing populations in small rural towns made it harder for their local football clubs to operate.
“The landscape of country football hasn’t been looked at for a while, so it probably is the right time to look into it,” he said.
The Wimmera and Horsham District football leagues said they were stable and operating well, but both welcomed the review.
Wimmera league chief commissioner Greg Schultz said it was a positive announcement that would allow AFL Victoria Country to put out a clear policy and stop speculation.
Western Vic Football general manager Stephen McQueen said it had the district league’s support and would be the top agenda item at the board’s next meeting on Tuesday.