The AFC laid out the procedure for deciding the participating associations and the allocation of slots, with inspection of the associations interested in participating in the AFC Champions League to be done in 2013, and the final decision to be made by the AFC on 26 November 2013.
The AFC Competitions Committee proposed the following participating criteria for the 2014–2016 editions of the AFC Champions League on 12 March 2013:
The top 23 member associations (MAs) as per the AFC rankings can apply either for direct slots or play-off slots. The interested MAs are given points and ranked according to the AFC evaluating system.
In both the East and West zones, there are a total of 14 direct slots in the group stage, with the 2 remaining slots filled through play-offs.
The top five MAs in both the East and West zones, if they acquire a minimum of 600 points, get direct slots in the group stage, while the remaining MAs, if they meet the minimum requirements, get play-off slots. The following scheme of allocating slots was approved by the AFC for the 2014–16 tournaments:
The top two ranked MAs in both the East and West zones get four direct slots each.
The third-ranked MAs get three direct and one play-off slot.
The fourth-ranked MAs get two direct and two play-off slots.
The fifth-ranked MAs get one direct and two play-off slots.
The sixth- to eleventh-ranked MAs each get one play-off slot.
The maximum number of slots for each MA is one-third of the total number of clubs in the top division (e.g., Australia can only get a maximum of three total slots as there are only nine Australia-based clubs in the A-League).
The AFC Cup winners and runners-up are given a play-off slot, regardless of their respective MA's rank, as long as the club meets the minimum criteria. If they have already qualified based on domestic performance, the slot is given to the next eligible club in its MA, as long as the club meets the minimum criteria.
On 26 November 2013, the AFC Executive Committee approved the slots for the 2014 edition of the AFC Champions League.
^ abc The play-off entrant from India is moved to the East Asia Zone.
^ Kuwait got one play-off slot based on the AFC Champions League evaluation. Moreover, Al-Kuwait and Al-Qadsia were the 2013 AFC Cup winners and runners-up respectively, and were given play-off slots. However, since they were the only two Kuwaiti clubs which passed the club licensing requirements, Kuwait only had two teams entering the qualifying play-off.
In the following table, the number of appearances and last appearance count only those since the 2002–03 season (including qualifying rounds), when the competition was rebranded as the AFC Champions League.
On 25 November 2013, the AFC Competitions Committee proposed to continue to play the final over two legs on a home-and-away basis (instead of reverting to playing the final as a single match as original proposed), and to split the competition on zonal basis to guarantee an East vs West final for the next three years.
The bracket for the qualifying play-off was determined by the AFC based on the association ranking of each team, with teams from the higher-ranked associations entering at later rounds. Teams from the same association may not play each other in the qualifying play-off. Each tie was played as a single match, with the team from the higher-ranked association hosting the match. Extra time and penalty shoot-out were used to decide the winner if necessary. The winners of each tie in round 3 advanced to the group stage to join the 28 automatic qualifiers. All losers of each round from associations with only play-off slots entered the 2014 AFC Cup group stage.
The draw for the group stage was held on 10 December 2013. The 32 teams were drawn into eight groups of four. Teams from the same association could not be drawn into the same group. Each group was played on a home-and-away round-robin basis. The winners and runners-up of each group advanced to the round of 16.
The teams are ranked according to points (3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, 0 points for a loss). If tied on points, tiebreakers are applied in the following order:
Greater number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned
Goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned
Greater number of goals scored in the group matches between the teams concerned (away goals do not apply)
Goal difference in all the group matches
Greater number of goals scored in all the group matches
Penalty shoot-out if only two teams are involved and they are both on the field of play
Fewer score calculated according to the number of yellow and red cards received in the group matches (1 point for a single yellow card, 3 points for a red card as a consequence of two yellow cards, 3 points for a direct red card, 4 points for a yellow card followed by a direct red card)