A spike in forfeits across south-west football competitions is impacting not only clubs withdrawing sides but rivals left without opponents to play.
Both the Hampden and Warrnambool and District leagues have had reserves and under 18 teams withdraw in 2022.
AFL Western District region manager Jason Muldoon conceded it was a concerning trend.
"It's probably the worst it's been for a long time, if not ever," he told The Standard of the number of forfeits.
Dennington's under 18 team has forfeited five times, including the past four rounds, while Old Collegians was also forced to pull the pin in round 12.
Timboon Demons have two forfeits to their name in the reserves while South Rovers has one, which was due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Hampden league club Port Fairy has withdrawn its reserves team on four occasions.
These forfeits are on top of clubs pulling teams completely - Camperdown in the Hampden league under 18s and Panmure in the Warrnambool and District league under 18s and under 15s.
"The reality is the proof is in front of us - clubs are struggling to find players to field these teams," Muldoon said.
"We can't shy away from it. It's more about the solution and how you fix it and can you fix it?
"There's different levels - is it a club issue, is it a league issue, are the age groups wrong? They are probably the things we're worried about at the moment."
Forfeits are impacting other teams too.
Nirranda's under 18s, for example, had a bye in round nine when they were drawn to play Panmure and then a second week off when Dennington withdrew the following round.
"It's not only the teams that are forfeiting, it's the teams in the competition who are missing out on playing the game," Muldoon said.
"It's not ideal because it has a flow-on effect. Kids say 'I want to play football' and then they have two to three weeks off. Does it deter them? I'd imagine it would."
Muldoon, when asked about whether forfeits threw doubt over the integrity of competitions, said "undoubtedly it could and it probably will".
"They're issues we have to deal with as they arise until we can stop the flow - and that's assuming we can stop the flow," he said.
An AFL Western District working group is meeting regularly to discuss short-term and long-term solutions for football's biggest issues.
Muldoon said a smoother permit system had been on the agenda.
"We're looking at our permit set-up and how we can make it easier for players to move among clubs," he said.
"Hypothetically South Warrnambool have five players who miss out, well we want to make it as easy as possible for those players to move to a particular club in the AFL Western District region. We feel as though it may help a little bit."
Age group tweaks have also been a discussion point.
"There's early talk about age groups and alignment of age groups across all leagues," Muldoon said.
"Are we better to line up all of our competitions? That would be a league decision, not an AFL Western District decision (if it was to happen)."
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