THE North Central Football League has mapped out a path forward with three finals format options depending on when - and if - the season can re-start.
And all three options still keep the four remaining finalists in the premiership race with no cutting of teams.
With all community sport again on hold this weekend for what would have been the start of the NCFL finals, the league has released three scenarios on re-start dates of September 4, September 11 and September 18.
The league's best-case scenario is that the regional Victorian lockdown ends at 11.59pm next Thursday and the NCFL can start its finals series on September 4 with the second semi-final between Sea Lake Nandaly (1st) and Birchip-Watchem (2nd) at Donald.
That would be followed the next day with the cut-throat first semi-final on Sunday, September 5, between Wedderburn (3rd) and Donald (4th) at Sea Lake.
The preliminary final would be played on Saturday, September 11, and the grand final at Wycheproof on Saturday, September 18.
While that format is the NCFL's preference, the league is also preparing for a shortened two week finals series if a September 4 return is ruled out due to lockdown extension:
If community sport is permitted to return on the weekend of September 11-12:
* 1st v 4th at Charlton on September 11;
* 2nd vs 3rd at Donald on September 12;
* Winners to meet in grand final at Wycheproof on September 18.
If community sport is permitted to return on the weekend of September 18-19:
* 1st v 4th at Charlton on September 18;
* 2nd vs 3rd at Donald on September 19;
* Winners to meet in grand final at Wycheproof on weekend of September 25-26.
Should the grand final fall on the weekend of September 25-26, the NCFL would need to manouvere around the AFL grand final, which will potentially be played as a twilight match in Perth on September 25.
Because of the lack of preparation time due to no training in lockdown, the league will also consider shortening quarters.
Such is its desire for the season to resume and there be an on-field resolution, the league hasn't ruled out the prospect of pushing into October if necessary.
NCFL chairman Tim Lockhart said the ongoing uncertainty around whether the competition would be able to re-start was a challenge for all involved, but the league - which also includes netball and hockey - wants every opportunity to return.
The upheaval of the finals series follows the league having to abandon five of its home and away rounds.
"I think COVID is really starting to get everyone down and people are looking to those who run clubs and leagues for answers and decisions," Lockhart said.
"Personally, the fact that we're in lockdown and we can't go away anywhere or plan to go anywhere, I think it's really important for our youth to have their coaches say to them, we still need to have a kick of the footy, throw of the netball or hit of the hockey stick, because we can't do much else.
"I know there's a lot of people getting frustrated, but I really believe it's important for people to have some purpose in lockdown. There's some people who just want to get the season done and over with, but to do what?
"I don't see any point in rushing in calling it off. We want to try to get it done and that's what we're having a crack at to the best of our ability within the realms of what's a fair timeline.
I don't see any point in rushing in calling it off. We want to try to get it done and that's what we're having a crack at to the best of our ability within the realms of what's a fair timeline- Tim Lockhart - NCFL chairman
"We've got players who started their training before Christmas on the back of missing last year and they've made the finals and we want to be able to try to give them that opportunity."
With the league focused on re-starting its season when possible and playing out a finals series, Lockhart said there hadn't been a discussion yet as to whether premierships would be awarded to the teams that finish on top if there is no return.
The NCFL board will meet again next Tuesday to discuss further scenarios.
Meanwhile, several Victorian leagues have now pulled the pin on their seasons, including the Goulburn Valley, Picola District and Sunraysia.
"With a number of members currently within isolation, any meaningful return to fitness and play would at best not occur until the end of September," the Picola District league said in a statement on Wednesday.
"After an extremely difficult situation where every reasonable effort has been exhausted, the decision has been made to provide closure."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.