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Korean Football Looks To Evolve

Yesterday at the end of year KFA Award Ceremony, Lee Yong-soo, head of the technical committee, outlined the KFA's plans to re-shape the Korean club football league structure. The eventual dissolution of the current National and K3 leagues, and the introduction of the new KFL leagues.

KFA Technical Committee chairman Lee Yong-soo speaks at the KFA Award Ceremony

The Current League Structure

Currently there are four basic levels to Korean football (simplified).

Division 1 - K League Classic
Division 2 - K League Challenge
Division 3 - National League
Division 4 - K3 League

The K League heads the top two division while the KFA oversees the lower two. The KFA additionally oversees all "school" leagues (university, high school, middle school, and elementary), but that isn't particularly relevant here.

Additionally there is a separate organization, the Korea Council of Sport National Football Association that oversees other amateur teams. If you've lived/been to Korea and walked by a park football field and seen a bunch of older men playing, they likely are playing a match under the KCS' watch. These teams can be composed of guys from the same company, apartment complex, neighborhood, etc.

The New League Structure

Next year the KFA and KCS (football) will merge under the roof of the KFA. The idea is fairly straightforward from my understanding, that is to streamline and simplify the organization and management of Korean football teams. The K League will still oversee the full professional teams and the KFA will oversee all the amateur and semipro teams.

The merger of the two is important as it plays a big part in the subsequent restructuring of the league.

Division 1 - K League Classic
Division 2 - K League Challenge
Division 3 - KFL1
Division 4 - KFL2
Division 5 - KFL3
Division 6 - KFL4

Other than the name changes (which are tentative at this point) there won't be any huge change in the teams you'll find in the top four divisions. Classic and Challenge will remain unchanged. KFL1 and KFL2 will be similar to the current National League and K3 League. Many of the teams will likely be the same. The divisions below (KFL3 and lower) will be composed of the new teams that join from the merger of the two organizations.


This is where things get a little confusing as the KFA's press release/article was slightly vague on details (probably for a reason). Essentially (from my understanding) the changes will focus around the currently existing National and K3 Leagues. Next season (2016), the K3 League will expand to 20 teams. Based on how the teams finish the 2016 season, they will go into a split group 2017 season. Then in 2018 relegation and promotion will be introduced.

The National League will not change for the time being, but it will eventually be dissolved (2018 I've heard, but it is not explicitly said in the KFA press report). National League clubs will need to chose whether they will go full professional and join the K League Challenge or remain semipro and enter the new KFL1 League.

2020 is the target for when the full changes will take effect. The National League and K3 League will be no more, and will be replaced by the new KFL leagues. KFL1 will be composed of former National League teams and K3 teams that meet the newly established minimums regarding player contracts, facilities, licenses and such. Teams that fail to meet those new requirements will go into the KFL2 League. KFL3 will be composed of amateur teams from the bigger cities while KFL4 will be amateur teams from smaller regions and counties.


There are a number of things I admittedly am not clear on. First is when the National League will be dissolved. Steve Han of Korea Goal.com (who is quite well informed) said on Twitter it will definitely be in 2018, and that would align with the KFA's press release that clubs have three years (2016-2018) to get in line with new requirements. It does however, leave a gap (2019) in terms of what happens to those teams. Some sort of transition year perhaps?

The second is how the split K3 League (2017) fits into the newly established KFL1 and KFL2 leagues. Presumably the upper split is intended to align with KFL1 and the lower split with KFL2?

How will relegation and promotion work going forward? Presumable there will be relegation-promotion between KFL1 and KFL2, but will there be promotion-relegation from KF1 and K League Challenge? Will there be pro-rel between KFL2 and KFL3 (and KFL4)?

The article speaks of completing the system by 2033, but does not speak about what that actually means or entails. My best guess is that it means ironing out unforeseen details and issues, such as how clubs can enter different levels and pro-rel within the divisions.

Why? What will the results be?

Here we are just guessing. The main point does seem to streamline control over football in Korea under one (two) roofs. I suspect it also aims at mimicking football structures in Europe and around the world. Other than that I don't think there's any other big motivation for the changes.

The results? Hard to say without more details. The ideal result of course would to eventually achieve a structure similar to other leagues around the world. Where small teams have the change/motivation to improve and grow so they can eventually make it up to the top flight K League Classic. Also, smaller teams would hopefully have a more manageable financial situation (mainly in terms of transportation), and would be able to control their growth and size.

Are you excited about the expansion/restructuring of the Korean football system? What do you think will happen in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Want the latest in Korean football news? Follow Jaehyeok Lee on Twitter: @ArmchairRegista

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