Bendigo Junior Football League president Norm Sheahan says the league’s continued restructuring is aimed at keeping young players in the sport.
Building on changes implemented this season, the biggest shake-up for next year will be to restrict clubs to two teams each in the under-14 and 16 age groups.
It means larger clubs like Eaglehawk and Strathfieldsaye, who had three under-14 teams this year, may need to turn players away next season.
The BJFL hopes those players join other clubs, eventually leading to more balanced competitions.
A recent AFL study showed the BJFL has one of the worst retention rates for junior footballers in regional Australia and Sheahan believes that could be improved by promoting more even matches.
“That we have one of the lowest – if not the lowest – retention rates in regional Australia is a real concern,” Sheahan said.
“We’ve got to do something to make sure kids keep interested in playing footy. At the moment, the kids in a lopsided competition just aren’t finding it interesting.
“All we’re trying to do is just spread the players. A couple of the major clubs that have had the three teams are all for the two teams, so from that point-of-view we’re getting good feedback.”
The changes will be in place for the next three years, but will be reviewed annually by the BJFL to iron out any glaring issues.
Sheahan said three years should be long enough to see whether the restructure has created a fairer competition.
“We’re trying to stockpile for the weaker clubs just for the moment, get some good families involved, get some good players and see what pans out,” he said.
Sheahan said clubs with too many players in an age group needed to “work out a formula on how they select kids”.
The clubs participating in the under-14 and 16 senior competitions will be unchanged next year.
Each club will need to nominate 10 players who can only play senior football, down from 14 this season.
The A and B-reserve competitions will replace the division one and two reserve grades in the under-14s in 2013, with BFNL clubs nominating which grade its second team plays in, as will the Loddon Valley, Heathcote and other district clubs.
“They can allocate and tell us where they want to go, but if we find after three or four rounds that they haven’t selected the right division then we will have the right to move them,” Sheahan said.
“We did it this year (with White Hills) and it was a pain.
“We don’t want that to happen so we’re going to tell the clubs make sure you have a proper look at it because, unfortunately, some clubs just try to win grand finals.
“If they nominate in the incorrect division and we put them up there probably will be penalties – that might be moving up without any points.”
The BJFL will leave the under-9, 10 and 12s division untouched next season.
The league is looking into offering incentives to clubs who field a youth girls’ team next season, with the possible departure of Mooroopna and Notre Dame College’s teams to a Shepparton league.
“The AFL has given us some funding this week to put some resources into offering clubs some benefits if they want to try and get a girls competition going,” Sheahan said.
“We haven’t drawn that out yet, that’s just come through, but at least it’s a positive with the girls as well.”
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