It's all-change in an exciting new era for the Championship
Andrew Johnston, managing director of the Northern Ireland Football League, has confirmed that Championship One will be a senior division for the start of the 2016/17 season.
That means Championship One clubs will not compete in competitions such as the Steel & Sons Cup and the Intermediate Cup next term. It will also be a busy time for club administrators, as all clubs must receive a Championship Licence should they wish to play in next term's Championship One.
The division will also be trimmed from 14 to 12 clubs, with three teams set for automatic relegation. It's all change in Championship Two, as well. The third tier will also be cut from 14 to 12, with as many as five teams set to be relegated out of league football.
Johnston explained: “This season is the pivotal season in the restructuring of the Northern Ireland Football League.
“At the end of the season, NIFL will be reduced from 40 to clubs to 36, and we will have three divisions of 12 rather than the 12, 14, 14 we have at the moment.
“The changes, however, are about more than just altering the numbers. From next season, Championship One will become the second senior tier of football, which means those 12 clubs would no longer compete in the various intermediate cup competitions. Championship Two will remain intermediate, and those clubs will remain in the cup competitions.
“The big change is probably in Championship Two, where four or five clubs will drop out of NIFL and into one of the four regional leagues. It's an exciting time, with plenty to play for.”
Johnston believes that the restructuring will help improve the level of football, and the levels of administration.
“Our aim was to improve the standard of the second tier of football in Northern Ireland, both on and off the field. That means for clubs to qualify to play in Championship One they must attain a Championship licence, which previously was only required if a club wanted to get promoted.
“We see the licencing process as something as a health check for our clubs. It means we know more about our clubs and how they're run. To help the clubs progress, we've hired a club development officer who will consult the clubs and help them develop a strategy for the future.”
There is no change to the battle for promotion at the top of Championship One. The winners will be promoted into the Premiership, while the team that finishes second in Championship One will face the 11th placed team in the top flight in a two-legged play-off, subject to licencing.
The 2016/17 season will also see a boost in prize money for Championship One, with each club getting £3,000 for participating. There is no such fee at the moment. The winners will get £8,000, compared to the £3,000 this year's winner will receive. The promotion play-off will also be extended, with the third-placed club facing the second placed club in a 'pre-play-off'.
* Championship One will be reduced from 14 clubs to 12 clubs for the 2016/17 season. The teams that finish 12th, 13th and 14th this season will be relegated to Championship Two, while the team that finishes 11th will play the side that comes second in Championship Two in a two-legged play-off.
*All clubs who wish to play in next season's Championship One must get a Championship Licence. Should not all clubs receive a Championship Licence, the top 12 clubs that do, will make up Championship One.
*Championship Two will also be reduced from 14 clubs to 12 clubs. The teams that finish 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th will be relegated out of the Northern Ireland Football League. The team that finishes 10th will also be relegated if one of the winners of the Mid Ulster Football League, the Northern Amateur Football League, the Northern Ireland Intermediate League or Ballymena & Provincial Intermediate League fulfils Championship criteria.
*Should more than one of the the regional champions fulfil Championship criteria, there will be a play-off to determine the final place in Championship Two.