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Football League proposals for new League Three and 20-team league structure explained

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Image: The structure of the Football League could undergo a major revamp if clubs accept new proposals

The Football League has announced radical proposals to change the league format - but what does all it mean? We answer the key questions.

What is being proposed?

A radical revamp of the Football League structure that would see the English professional game expanded to five leagues, each with 20 teams.

Currently the structure is four leagues, with 20 teams in the Premier League and 24 in each of the Championship, League One and League Two.

The proposed changes would see the introduction of a 'League Three' and also see a major cutback to midweek league fixtures.

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Image: A 'League Three' is planned under the Football League proposals

When is this planned for?

The Football League has contacted all professional clubs to explain the ideas - with the aim of bringing the changes into effect for the 2019/20 season.

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Discussions will continue over the course of next season, before a decision is made in June 2017. 

Is it set in stone?

No. The Football League will seek a decision from clubs at their AGM in June 2017, with a final decision to be confirmed by November of that year.

In order to get the proposal over the line, 90 per cent of the 92 league clubs have to agree to the changes. 

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Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey explains why the body has made the proposal to change its structure to four divisions, each containing 20 teams

Why the proposed changes?

The thinking behind the proposal is to ease the demands of the fixture list. A 20-team league would mean no midweek fixtures, which in turn would ease players' workloads to give them a greater turnaround between matches and reduce costs and travel demands for fans. 

The Football League also believes more professionals playing - and with increased recovery time - could help England's national side.

Where will the extra clubs come from?

The proposal would see an increase from 92 to 100 clubs in the English structure.

According to Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey, it makes sense for the extra spaces to be filled from teams from the National League but he has also left the door open for Premier League B teams to join the professional ladder.

If all the teams are to come from the National League, we would see the top eight promoted in the final season before the restructure.

Brighton fans outside the ground before the Sky Bet Championship play-off, semi-final, first leg
Image: A reduce in fixtures would allow more fans to get to games

Could it affect clubs financially? 

Clubs are bound to have reservations about having four fewer home games a season, which would therefore affect their gate receipts.

The Football League argue that more fans will be able to get to games at the weekend and also that clubs won't have to employ as many players and spend money on treatment for injuries, due to the ease of the fixture list. 

How will promotion and relegation work at the end of 2018/19 season?

That is still to be debated, but what is clear is that the "three up, three down" between the Championship and Premier League will remain as a cornerstone of the Football League's principles.

Harvey is keen to stress that the league winners in Leagues One and Two will be guaranteed promotion in the 2018/19 season but from there, any formula could be possible, including whether to scrap the play-offs for that particular season. Also, no team will be relegated from League Two in 2017/18 or 2018/19 - and the National League would retain their guaranteed two promotion spots. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Grimsby's Craig Disley lifts the trophy as he celebrates the teams win and promotion to the football league during the Vanarama F
Image: Grimsby's Craig Disley lifts the trophy as he celebrates promotion to the Football League

How will promotion and relegation work AFTER the 2018/19 season?

That has yet to be finalised, but what we do know is the Football League are keen to ensure there are to be at least six new clubs in each league at the start of each season, meaning promotion and relegation will continue in a similar format.

What about the long-term future of the play-off structure?

Although these changes are radical, the Football League is adamant to maintain the end of season play-off finals as the last event of the domestic season. They look here to stay.

Norwich City's Scottish defender Steven Whittaker (C) raises the trophy
Image: The Football League are keen to keep the play-offs as the last event of the domestic season

What will happen to the League Cup and Football League Trophy competitions?

The League Cup will run under the same guidelines, including the two-legged semi-finals.

However, the Football League Trophy is to undergo a revamp. The plan is to potentially include a group structure of three games and a knockout thereafter. This will be made possible by flexibility in the fixture list schedule, with group games likely to be played on international weekends to provide the competition with its own platform and identity. 

Any other areas of further discussion?

The reduction in the number of league fixtures played by Football League clubs would be the catalyst for further change, according to the proposal. Topics including a winter break, the removal of FA Cup replays or moving games to midweek and the future of the Community Shield could all be discussed.

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