The BFNL's decision to cancel the finals series has largely been accepted by clubs, but the consultation process and awards scenario has been questioned.
Six of the BFNL's club presidents with football and/or netball teams that would have played in finals in the coming weeks opened up on their thoughts of the second-straight COVID-19 ruined season, while one of the BFNL's premier players was dumbfounded by the move to not recognise minor premiers and individual awards.
Strathfieldsaye Storm president Glen Cowling and star forward Lachlan Sharp aired their grievances over the weekend - 24 hours after the BFNL season officially ended.
The league announced on Friday that "in consultation with affiliated clubs regrettably wish to announce that the finals series has been cancelled for season 2021".
"The press release said there was consultation, but we weren't consulted and that's my main beef,'' Cowling said.
"I received a phone call to say the board had come to a decision that the season was over. That was it.
"July 21 was the last time we had a president's meeting. The board put out a road map without any consultation and we accepted it, but then two weeks into it they scrapped it.
"The board said they'd do everything possible to get an outcome to the season. Next week we could have a chance to get back on, but this decision has been made - again, without consultation from the clubs.
"All our players were in good spirits and preparing themselves to play, but now it's been taken away without the board asking clubs for feedback as to how players were feeling.
"The circumstances we're in were always going to make it tough to play the finals series, I understand that, but the way the decision was made was disappointing."
The BFNL board's statement on Friday also included its decision to not declare ladder-leading teams minor premiers.
Individual awards in all grades, including the prestigious Michelsen Medal in senior football and Betty Thompson Medal in A-grade netball, will also not be presented this year.
"As a result of the cancellation of a significantly compromised home and away 2021 season, the BFNL board wishes to advise that premierships (including minor premierships) will not be recognised or awarded for season 2021,'' the BFNL board statement said.
"The BFNL will also not award any individual awards such as league best and fairest winners, as several competitions have become far too compromised."
Other leagues in the region, including the HDFNL and LVFNL, will present individual awards and the teams that finished on top of the ladder have been named 2021 minor premiers.
Strathfieldsaye were on top of the BFNL senior ladder at the conclusion of the shortened senior football home and away season.
"If the league gave the individual awards out and called us minor premiers like every other league - we'd accept that,'' Cowling said.
"Acknowledge the fact that the work has been done. That's across the board in all grades, not just for the benefit of senior football."
Sharp said the Storm's playing group was disenchanted by the cancellation of the finals and the decision to not present individual awards.
Sharp would have won his third Ron Best Medal this year as the BFNL's leading goalkicker, but he said that wasn't his motivation for speaking out on the decision.
"I understand that playing the finals series was out of the league's hands (because of COVID-19), but the presentation of the league awards was in the league's hands,'' Sharp said.
"The league medals and the rising star awards were things that the players were looking forward to.
"By not presenting them it makes you think that the league doesn't value the work the players put in. The players now feel that all the work they put in is worth nothing.
"Those awards are important. For our young players to finish in the top five of a league best and fairest award would do wonders for their confidence.
"The rising star awards in football and netball - those young players deserve recognition. I don't understand why our league is different from every other league in Victoria.
"I've got mates who play in the Heathcote league and the Loddon Valley league and they've got their league vote counts to look forward to.
"We have nothing. I'm disappointed for not just the players across the league, but the volunteers and spectators as well.
"It's as if this season didn't even happen and that's really disappointing. It makes me wonder if I want to be part of a league that doesn't seem to value players', clubs' and volunteers' commitment and dedication to the season."
Cowling and Sharp said if the league was concerned about a compromised fixture, it could look at only including the first nine rounds of the season for individual awards.
Sandhurst and Gisborne's power brokers backed the BFNL's decisions and process.
"We're disappointed the way things have turned out, but we can't disagree with the decision to call off the finals,'' Sandhurst president Chris Greene said.
"It would have been too dangerous to ask players to play in a final after having no contact training for eight weeks.
"We would have loved to play and it's disappointing to not get that opportunity across the board, but I'm not sure we had any other option."
Greene said he also agreed with the decision to not award minor premierships.
"That's a soccer thing,'' Greene said.
"Our season has always been decided by finals and that's the way it should be. The last thing Sandhurst wanted was an asterisk season.
"We'll have club best and fairest awards, but in terms of league awards I think they'd have an asterisk beside them because of the unfair nature of the draw. League awards are coveted and I don't think it would be fair to hand out those medals this year."
Gisborne president John Wood staunchly supported the board.
"I don't think the board had much of a choice,'' Wood said.
"The most likely outcome, at best, was going to be first versus second with no crowds.
"We would have had our under-18s in it, they were the dominant side all year, and I'm not sure how that would have sat with them. Talking to people within our club they think it was the right decision in terms of player welfare.
"It was going to be a long time between drinks for the players. If you look at it realistically, and take into account all the factors, it was the correct call."
He also had no issues with the board's consultation policy in recent times.
"If you're running a sporting competition and the state government can't provide a concrete plan for how we get out of the pandemic, how should we expect our sporting administrators to have a concrete plan out of this?,'' Wood said.
"I think people lose sight of that. The board members are volunteers, it's a big commitment and they have to administer a league in tough times like this.
"In this case, we were running out of time. I think the board has done a terrific job in trying circumstances. I take my hat off to them."
As for the league awards, Wood said a nine-round count would probably be the fairest option.
"Do you take the votes from all games played or do you just count up to round nine where everyone has played each other once?,'' Wood said.
"It's a difficult one. I think it's probably unfair because players have had opportunities to play against different sides twice."
Golden Square president Brendan Stewart said the Bulldogs backed the BFNL board.
"The decision was inevitable, but it doesn't make it any less disappointing,'' Stewart said.
"We support the decision. The board is there to make that call. The decision was always going to be based on what the government would let us do, so we have no issues with the decision.
"(In terms of awards) we'll do our own best and fairest awards, but in terms of league awards I think the right call was made.
"The season was far from complete and I don't think it would be fair to do the awards because of the games we missed."
South Bendigo president Alan Ellis was confused by the board's statement, but agreed with the call to pull the pin on the finals.
"I found it interesting they said they'd consulted with the clubs, but we were just rang and told of the decision,'' Ellis said.
"In terms of the decision itself, we're disappointed the season is over, but we understand why the decision was made.
"It's a health and safety issue and it would have been unfair to throw them straight into a preliminary final or grand final."
Ellis said it was the right decision not to present individual awards.
"Had the final round of the home and away season gone ahead, Strathfieldsaye wasn't going to play because of Kyneton's forfeit,'' Ellis said.
"Lachlan Sharp missed the chance to play and Kaiden Antonowicz was only five goals behind in the league goal kicking. We were to play Maryborough and Kaiden most likely would have kicked five goals or more that day and gone ahead of Sharp.
"That wouldn't have been fair on Sharp. That's why you can't have the league awards - there were too many differences in the draw and it wouldn't be fair to all players.
"For individuals it's disappointing, but logistically it was the right decision."
Kangaroo Flat president Leigh Bailey echoed Ellis' thoughts on consultation.
"Lack of consultation has been a bit of a bug bear, so it would have been good to be part of the process,'' Bailey said.
"The board has been making decisions without consulting clubs. I don't agree with it and I know of other clubs that don't agree with it either."
The Roos had a golden opportunity to win multiple netball premierships had the finals gone ahead.
"It was a tough call to pull the pin, but at the end of the day it was probably the right call,'' Bailey said.
"We had a number of netball teams that were still a chance to play, but talking to our coach they didn't want to see the season finish on the basis of one-off grand finals.
"I think it would have been a hollow victory for the participants who won grand finals in that circumstance. As a club, we're satisfied with the decision the board made."
Bailey said he felt sorry for the league's young players, who missed out on the opportunity to feature in awards.
"I would have liked to see the rising stars acknowledged because they're the future of our league,'' Bailey said.
"In terms of the votes and goal kicking and goal shooting awards, it's probably a bit harder because of the different games teams played."
Read more: The BFNL season that never was
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