A REVIEW into the underage competitions of the Bendigo, Heathcote District, Loddon Valley and North Central leagues has recommended no changes to any of the age groups next year.
The AFL Central Victoria "Third Tier Competition" Review has been completed with the purpose of "examining the current age group of the oldest underage competition in each of the senior leagues and recommend the optimal age group for season 2020 and beyond".
Among the recommendations of the review are that all existing age groups remain as is for next year:
Bendigo - under-18;
Heathcote District - under-17;
Loddon Valley - under-18; and
North Central - under-16.
Concerning for the North Central league is the review states: "most clubs indicated that they would struggle to field a team within the next five years, but wanted to keep this age group (under-16) as long as possible."
And in the Loddon Valley league it's acknowledged that "while many clubs struggle to field teams, clubs considered it important to keep a third-tier competition as long as possible".
Among the recommendations for the Bendigo league under-18 competition is the trial of a player points system for 2020 ahead of consideration for a full implementation in 2021.
There is also a recommendation for a soft cap trial next year limiting the number of under-18 players for Bendigo-based clubs on their list to 28, which could include two Bendigo Pioneer players.
BFNL manager Cameron Tomlins said the under-18 recommendations of the review were still to be discussed by the league and its clubs.
"We have got a presidents meeting next month and a review of the third tier review is one of those agenda items, so we'll have some discussions around that then," Tomlins said.
"At this point in time I haven't had any in-depth discussions with anyone since the recommendations came out and what changes we may look to implement."
As part of the review Bendigo league clubs were asked about the merits of the under-18 competition becoming under-19s.
Among the recommendations for the Bendigo league under-18 competition is the trial of a player points system for 2020AFL Central Victoria Third Tier Competition Review
The response was five clubs believe under-18s is correct and under-19s would be of no benefit; two clubs believe under-19s to be the ideal age group; while three clubs would consider a change to under-19s if it could be proved to be beneficial.
Meanwhile, one of the most hotly debated underage football topics in recent years in the region has been the HDFNL's under-17 structure and the desire for some clubs to see it elevated to under-18s.
That was again the case as part of the review, with Mount Pleasant, Heathcote, Huntly, White Hills and North Bendigo advocating for a switch to under-18s in line with the Bendigo and Loddon Valley leagues.
However, the recommendation is for the competition to remain under-17 as it has been since 1987.
"It was recognised by all members that the under-17 age group works for the country clubs as it provides a three-year age gap supporting their feeder competitions," the review stated.
"Although, it is not ideal for the Bendigo-based clubs who participate in the Bendigo Junior Football League and have a one-year age gap between under-16 and under-17 age groups and are surrounded by under-18 competitions."
The review analysed data from the five clubs that wanted the age group changed to under-18 where it was found that 22 under-18 players for 2019 transferred out of those clubs - eight to the BFNL, 11 to the LVFNL and one to play seniors in the NCFL, while two left the region.
"Based upon the evidence and discussions with clubs it was recognised that clubs within the HDFNL have differing junior development programs and varying populations that contributed to the status of the club," AFLCV regional general manager Carol Cathcart wrote to the HDFNL.
"There is no one age group that suits all current HDFNL clubs and therefore, regardless of the decision, some clubs will be unhappy with the outcome.
"Five players developed as a junior by HDFNL clubs transferring to another club in the region this year was not considered sufficient to change the age group."
Cathcart also notes the HDFNL under-17s has been the most even under-age competition in the region in recent years.
The review also states that the AFLCV Commission investigate the future senior competition structure within the region.
"Many clubs expressed concern with the current structure of football within the region," the review reads.
"All senior football and netball competition structures should promote the sustainability of clubs, while factoring in the following - competitive balance; meet the growth or decline of population within the region; provide all clubs the opportunity to find their competitive and sustainable level; and promote competition equalisation."
It's also recommended the AFLCV Commission examine the Bendigo Junior Football League for potential improvements to assist with retention, while also factoring in the player points system at senior level.
"The Club Sustainability Program (which includes the player points system) has introduced a new complexity into junior football with clubs recruiting earlier. Many clubs expressed concern regarding the poaching of players in the junior grades," the report reads.
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