The first round of the I-League second division will kick off in January, if sources within the All India Football Federation are to be believed.

Twenty teams will participate in an expanded second division, with the teams likely to be split into either four or five regional zonal groups for the ease of conducting matches. The winners of these zones will then compete against each other in the final round.

The league committee is still pondering the best way of conducting the final round, as they say a home-and-away format may mean additional expenditure for the teams, and may be replaced by a centralised round-robin league, hosted at a single location.

The reserve sides of seven Indian Super League sides will participate in the second division, alongside 13 other clubs from across the country. The 13 clubs have all been nominated previously by their respective state association, with the AIFF yet to decide on their participation on the basis of their finances.

The additional caveat for their inclusion is that the team nominated by the SA must have finished in the top half of their respective state league in the previous season in order to be eligible to be nominated. The most high-profile casualty for this rule was Mumbai-based Kenkre FC, who could only finish ninth in the 12-team MDFA Elite League last season.

The AIFF had also laid down a rule that no more than two teams from the same SA would be accepted into the second division. As a result of this, the third teams from Kashmir and Delhi were not accepted, as two from each SA had already been accepted into the fold.

It has been reliably learnt that the reserve sides of Mumbai City FC, NorthEast United FC and ATK will not be taking part in the I-League division two. Alongside the ISL reserve sides, some teams have already been notified of their likely inclusion in the division.

In the last seven years, six editions have been won by teams from the Northeast - Shillong Lajong (2011), United Sikkim (2012), Rangjadied United (2013), Royal Wahingdoh (2014), Aizawl (2015) and Neroca (2017).

From the Northeast, Shillong-based Lansning FC will make a return to the second division after a hiatus of four years. At the helm will be former Lajong head coach and Meghalaya’s first Pro License holder Herring Shampliang, who took over at the start of the 2017 SPL season. Lansning finished fourth in last season’s SPL.

Imphal-based Neroca won the second division last time and from the home of the defending champions, Tiddim Road Athletic Union, also known as TRAU FC, will stake a claim for a spot in the first division. TRAU finished runners-up behind Neroca in the previous Manipur Super League and are three-times champions of the MSL in its 11 editions so far.

Bhopal-based Madhya Bharat SC will also be a part, coached by Jose Hevia. The two teams from Delhi competing in division two will be Hindustan FC and Delhi United. The two Kashmiri teams from previous season, Real Kashmir FC and Lonestar Kashmir, return to have another go at promotion.

Ozone FC, having recently appointed Stanley Rozario as head coach, have been reinstated in the second division, after initially having been dropped from the list of teams. Expected to join them from the south are Fateh Hyderabad and Viva Chennai, although it remains to be seen whether the latter will play from their home base.

The exuberant costs of playing at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai had forced I-League side Chennai City FC to shift to Coimbatore and Viva Chennai may do the same. From Kolkata, Mohammedan Sporting are expected to try to return to the first division.

Division two runners-up last time, Southern Samity may not return this year, due to financial irregularities, owing to non-payment of player dues for last season and this Calcutta Football League season.

The list of teams is still tentative and the official announcement is expected sometime later this month. The clubs are also expected to fulfill the licensing criteria for second-tier teams.