Melton South president Brendan Morrissey holds "grave fears" for the future of his club as consequence of the Ballarat Football Netball League abandoning any plans to play at senior level this year.
He said it was possible the Panthers might not emerge from having the year off.
Morrissey said he was worried about the ability to rebound off such a low base - and not from just an on-field point of view.
Melton South has not played in finals since 2011 and he fears players and people around the club might feel the task is just too difficult and either make their way to another club or find other activities to do rather than being involved with the Panthers.
Morrissey said with volunteers so important, the landscape might change for them while football was dormant.
He said while the club respected the decision made by the BFNL not to go ahead with a competition owing to COVID-19 restrictions, the Panthers had been really keen to play.
Morrissey said with player retention so important, not knowing next year's salary cap and player points also made it difficult.
"It's a real worry not knowing what the landscape is going to be next year."
He said Melton South players had already been approached by Riddell District league clubs.
Morrissey said with players able to play elsewhere this year under a COVID0-19 permit system, there were concerns that anyone who played elsewhere might not come back.
Despite his concerns, Morrissey said he was pleased to be able to announce that senior coach Heath Pritchard had been reappointed for next year.
He said this had been locked in on Friday morning.
North Ballarat City, Sunbury and Bacchus Marsh are other clubs along with reigning premier East Point which had expressed a desire to play.
North Ballarat City president Leon Jones said his club would have liked to play if possible, but understood the decision in what was a fluid environment.
He said it was disappointing that it taken AFL Victoria so long to release return to play protocols, with documentation being made available on Thursday.
Bacchus Marsh president Mark Farrell also expressed disappointment with AFL Victoria's handling of the process.
"We wanted to play at all costs."
He said at the same time the Cobras were comfortable with the decision.
Farrell said he could not fault the BFNL's handling of the situation. "They've done a fantastic job."
He said the football community had been let down by AFL Victoria and state government, with communication falling short of where it needed to be.
Farrell said information to the grassroots level of the game had been nothing more than spin.
He said he was also far from happy with the lack of clarity around the introduction of the COVID-19 permit system put in place, allowing players to shift clubs for this year on the basis they returned next season.
Farrell said the club was in good shape and he was confident it would return in a strong position next year.
Sunbury president Hedley Duhau said the Lions had been keen, although they acknowledged it would have been difficult without crowds and the ability to run social functions.
He said it needed to be acknowledged that playing would have carried an element of risk, especially considering Sunbury was in the COVID-19 municipal hotspot of Hume.
Duhau said it was an understandable decision, given the tightening of restrictions last weekend.
Redan president Garry Goyne said after much deliberation the Lions had chosen to vote against playing this year.
He said the club was concerned with the "airy fairy" nature of the protocols. "They were too indecisive."
Goyne said no one could go into a season being sure that everything would be okay. "It's the unknown."
He said it would be devastating for club, its families and the whole community if something went wrong.
"This is about more than football. Something had to give."
Melton president Greg Davis said the Bloods had chosen vote against playing.
He said while financial matters were a concern, it was the welfare of volunteers and difficulty in meeting the demands of protocols which had swayed the club's decision.
Davis said the players had accepted the move, but many felt the process had dragged on too long.
Sebastopol president Darren Hammill said the Burra had worked over the past two years to set itself up financially and believed playing this year might have jeopardised that position.
He said the players had agreed more than football was at stake in this situation.
Lake Wendouree president Gavin Maher said its preference had been not to play, with everyone - players, coaches and committee - all on the same page.
Ballarat was the second club to announce its withdrawal - following the Darley's statement earlier in the week - with a Facebook post on Thursday night.