THE EFL have today confirmed the format for the 2016-17 EFL Trophy, which will include 16 clubs with Category One academies for the first time ever.
The competition, formerly named the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, will begin with a group stage, before becoming a straight knock-out tournament from the second round onwards.
A prize fund of up to £1.95m will also be on offer, including £10,000 per win and £5,000 per draw in the group stage, plus £100,000 for the eventual winner.
In a radical step, matches in the groups that finish in a draw after 90 minutes will be decided by a penalty shoot-out, with the winners receiving an extra point towards their total.
Sixty-four clubs will compete across 16 groups of four teams in the opening stage, with the top two advancing to the next round. Each group will consist of at least one Category One academy, one League One team and one League Two team.
The 16 clubs with Category One academies invited to take part in next season's EFL Trophy are: Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United.
Each team will play each other once in the group stage, with the invited club playing one home game at the first-team stadium.
The winners of each group will take on the second-placed teams in a regionalised second round draw, before the victors from those matches will compete in the last 16 with a 'free' draw.
The quarter-finals and semi-finals will also see an unprotected draw, meaning that the Northern and Southern Section finals of previous years will be no more.
Any tie level after 90 minutes up to the quarter-finals will be decided by penalties; the format for the conclusion of the semi-finals and final is yet to be decided.
The 2016-17 EFL Trophy final will take place at Wembley Stadium on April 2, 2017.
The re-vamp and inclusion of academy teams has been met with fierce opposition, but EFL Chief Executive Shaun Harvey believes that the changes will give the competition new impetus.
"The new format is intended to rejuvenate this competition and also assist the development of the very best young players in English football," Harvey said.
"This will help us deliver more and better home-grown players which will deliver benefits to the national team and domestic league football at all levels.
"I believe this is the right time to pilot these changes to the EFL Trophy, which we will review at the end of the 2016-17 season following discussions with our clubs and having consulted with the other football bodies and supporter organisations."
2016-17 EFL Trophy dates:
– w/c August 29, 2016
– w/c October 3, 2016
– w/c November 7, 2016
Round 2 – w/c December 5, 2016
Round 3 – w/c January 9, 2017
Round 4 – w/c January 23, 2017
Semi-final – w/c February 20, 2017
Final – April 2, 2017 (Wembley Stadium)