Indian Football Federation Mulling US-style Conference Format for I-League | Sportsmonks

Indian Football Federation Mulling US-style Conference Format for I-League

US-style Conference format for I-League

The All India Football Federation is contemplating changing the format of the domestic pyramid’s second tier, I-League, from the traditional home-and-away to a US-style conference system when the new season kicks off later this year. The proposal was presented during the AIFF’s executive committee meeting on Monday.

A senior AIFF official said the idea was ‘disruptive’ and added it was necessary to ‘reinvent’ the I-League to ensure ‘it doesn’t die a slow death while also making it cost-effective for teams by reducing travel time.’ The official, however, said the clubs will be consulted before the new model will be implemented.

In its current format, the official argued, the operational cost for every I-League club is set to go up considerably after the AIFF added five new teams to the existing 11-club competition during its meeting on Monday.

Consequently, the upcoming I-League season will have 15 teams. The new teams will be based in Varanasi (owned by YMS Finance Pvt Ltd), Bhaini Sahib Village in Punjab (Namdhari Seeds Pvt Ltd), Bengaluru (Nimida United Sports Development Pvt Ltd), Delhi (Concatenate Advest Advisory Pvt Ltd. Bunkerhill Pvt Ltd were eyeing for a team from Ambala but have withdrawn their bid, and will continue their association with Mohammedan Sporting.

If the new model gets the green signal from all stakeholders, the format could see the teams divided into two conferences. Teams in each conference will play home and away, with the top four from both groups then competing for the title. The remaining teams will engage in a battle to avoid relegation.

“The plan was discussed today but it is not yet decided,” the official said. “The clubs have spent lots of money, time and energy travelling from one venue to another. Just imagine, playing one game in Kozhikode and then travelling to Srinagar for the next is like crossing 5 countries in Europe. It takes a toll on the players and ultimately reflects on the quality of the game. We had to take a call – is it worth travelling so much?”

The I-League has been facing an existential crisis ever since it was taken over by the Indian Super League as the country’s top division in 2019. The matches are often played in front of empty stands, during odd hours and have inferior television production quality compared to the ISL.

The AIFF, the official noted, also realised that many I-League matches are ‘dead rubbers’. “The second half of the season is often dull. If you are out of contention for the title race, and safe from relegation, you start losing interest in the league. Teams don’t field their best players and some even send their best foreigners home after realising they are not fighting for the title,” the official said.

“In two conferences, the team will be in contention for a longer period. There will be a playoff system and the season will come alive in the second half,” the official added. “On top of that, we are also contemplating holding some matches at neutral venues like Kolhapur or Nagaland where they don’t have I-League clubs but have huge fans. That way, we can spread the game.”

Meanwhile, the AIFF also decided to revive the Federation Cup and make it the premier cup competition in India from the 2023-24 season onwards.

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