At the outset of the Checkatrade Trophy trial last summer, the EFL committed to giving its clubs the opportunity to determine the competition’s future format and, following a period of consultation in April, League One and League Two representatives met to share views.
During this meeting, clubs were presented with a review of the 2016-17 season before being asked to vote on three options:
1 Retaining the current format with amendments;
2 Reverting to a 48-team knock-out competition;
3 Abandoning the Checkatrade Trophy altogether.
The vote showed that 66.6% of clubs who voted did so for Option 1 and, as a result, the format – with some key amendments - will be retained for seasons 2017-18 and 2018-19.
In accordance with views expressed by the Green Army in a supporters’ survey carried out by Argyle earlier this year, the Pilgrims voted in favour of Option 2, returning to a knock-out competition for League One and League Two clubs.
Key format changes to the Checkatrade Trophy over the next two seasons include:
• EFL team selection criteria amended to allow increased flexibility for League One and League Two clubs;
• An increase in the total competition fund to £3m;
• Each group will continue to contain one invited Under-21 team with the remainder made up of EFL clubs from either League One or League Two. Groups will be formed to minimise overall travel time for EFL clubs and fans;
• Invited Under-21 teams will play their group games away from home;
• Regionalisation until the quarter-final stage (improved from round two in 2016-17) to minimise overall travel time for clubs and fans; and
• Flexibility of fixture dates to allow teams to schedule games outside of international weeks.
As part of the proposals, the selection criteria for invited Under-21 teams will remain as "six players from the starting 11 must be under the age of 21 as at June 30, 2017."
There are three headline objectives for the Checkatrade Trophy in seasons 2017-18 and 2018-19. They are to:
• Provide enhanced playing opportunities for young players of EFL and Category One clubs;
• Enhance the profile of the competition; and
• Improve the revenue opportunities for EFL clubs.
EFL Chief Executive Shaun Harvey has welcomed the support of the competition.
He said: “The history of the EFL Trophy is one of new ideas and innovation, but at its heart has always been the belief that this is an opportunity for League One and League Two clubs to taste cup success. I am therefore delighted to see the backing the Checkatrade Trophy has received from our clubs for the next two seasons, following a full and comprehensive review of this year’s pilot format.
“We wanted to ensure that League One and League Two clubs had the opportunity to make the key decisions regarding where we take the competition in 2017-18 and beyond, and I believe we have reached a revised format that benefits all parties.
“EFL clubs will have greater flexibility with regard to team selection, while still maintaining the principle that this is a first-team competition for our clubs that will support the development and progression of young players. The competition will also provide significant financial rewards for all EFL Clubs, which increases with success.”
Luton Town manager Nathan Jones said: “From a footballing perspective, the Checkatrade Trophy was a huge benefit to us as it gave senior players from the lower divisions the chance to play against a younger group from higher levels of the English game, but it also allowed us to pit our talented youngsters against Category One academies.
“We are pleased that our feedback has been taken on board, with the relaxation of the selection rules allowing us to play the players we choose to. We strongly feel our young players deserve the same opportunity as those from Category One academies.
“Just as importantly though, the EFL have assured clubs that it isn’t the thin end of the wedge in terms of Premier League clubs being able to enter B teams into the league. I know our supporter groups have been consulted all the way through by the club’s board when giving our views, and hopefully any fears they had on that front have been allayed.
“These are some of the best young players in the country from the top academies we are coming up against, and with the prize money increase, it’s an excellent way of filtering some of the Premier League cash through to the lower divisions while benefitting our own players on the pitch.”
Coventry City manager Mark Robins said: "The Checkatrade Trophy has been an invaluable experience for those players at an under 21 level to participate in senior football, it will certainly aid their development moving forward.
"We won the competition with what was primarily a young team, and if you can get to Wembley and experience a fixture in front of that many fans at the National Stadium, it can only be a positive."
Doncaster Rovers manager Darren Ferguson said: “The Checkatrade Trophy was a roaring success for Doncaster Rovers as far as I am concerned; it gave me the chance to play and look at the younger players in the squad and see how they coped with better opposition.
“The players enjoyed the group stages of the tournament and we were disappointed to go out of it on penalties in the second round. I think the format was good and I am happy to see the same format for next season.”