Two-time North Ballarat Rebels head coach Gerard FitzGerald says country-based youngsters can expect to face a much tougher challenge fulfilling their AFL dream from next year.
He said as well as the likelihood of smaller AFL club lists markedly reducing opportunities, the possibility of fewer pathway regions would also make it more difficult.
He cited increased travel demands with geographically larger regions a potential hurdle for many.
FitzGerald, who coached the Rebels in 2005-06 and 2016-17, said travel had always placed pressures on players in far reaches of the state meeting the commitments of playing in the elite statewide under-18 competition.
He said while many players in the Rebels region - which now stretches from Ballarat and Camperdown to the South Australian border in the south-west and Wimmera-Mallee - were fortunate enough combat distance by attending boarding school in Ballarat, this was not possible for all.
FitzGerald said while regional training bases eased some pressures, full squads ultimately needed to train together.
He said it might lead to a model which featured more individual training - not unlike being experienced across the nation during the existing COVID-19 shutdown - and fewer sessions involving all players..
FitzGerald said although it was not possible to predict what would happen after the CODIV-19 crisis, everyone had to accept that when life returned to "normal" there would be change on the football front, with the male and female pathway programs no exception.
"It won't return to what we've had in the past. We have to keep an open mind and not let an opportunity go by. A formal pathway must remain, but we have to be prepared for change."
FitzGerald said many sports have followed the under-18 model since it was introduced in the early 1990s and Australian rules again had an opportunity to be a leader by making change.
He said interestingly Ballarat was originally part of the Geelong Falcons region.
North Ballarat became the base for a new region, focusing on the western corridor and far south-west.