By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top football league will mark its 30th anniversary in 2013 with a series of changes, including adopting a two-division system for the first time, league officials said Monday.
The K-League will be divided into two divisions starting next year, the league office said in a statement. In 2012, 16 clubs competed in the K-League, and two teams were relegated to the second division.
Sangju Sangmu Phoenix, a military club made up of conscripted players, will be forced to play in the lower division next year after failing to meet club licensing requirements laid out by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the continent's football governing body. Gwangju FC had the worst record among the 15 remaining teams other than Sangju Sangmu.
According to the K-League, the second division will include eight clubs.
The 13th and 14th-ranked teams, or the two worst clubs, in the first division in 2013 will be automatically relegated to the second division for 2014. Then the No. 12 team from the first division and the No. 1 seed from the second division will collide in a playoff for a spot in the first division.
That means up to three clubs from the first division can be sent down to the lower tier.
"Much like in European leagues, second-division teams can earn a promotion," the K-League said. "We think this will be a great source of motivation for the second division teams."
The K-League is scheduled to unveil names for the two divisions and their emblem this Thursday.
In 2012, the K-League used the "split" system for the first time. After 30 games, the 16 teams were split into two groups of eight, based on their records. Then they played 14 more games within their groups.
There were no playoffs this year, and FC Seoul was declared the champion for having the best 44-game record.
In another change, the league will force clubs to include at least one player under the age of 23 on their rosters starting next year. The move is designed to encourage teams to promote their youth programs and develop young, homegrown talent.
Starting in 2014, teams must have at least two under-23 players. By 2015, at least one such youngster must appear in a league game.
The K-League also said it is planning a series of commemorative events to celebrate its 30th year, including a special All-Star Game.
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