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 2015, and the final decision to be made by the AFC in November 2015.
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 25 January 2014, the AFC Competitions Committee proposed a revamp of the AFC club competitions. The member associations are ranked based on their national team's and clubs' performance over the last four years in AFC competitions, with the allocation of slots for the 2015 and 2016 editions of the AFC club competitions determined by the 2014 rankings. The associations ranked 1 to 24 as per the AFC rankings are eligible to receive direct slots in the AFC Champions League, as long as they fulfill the AFC Champions League criteria. This proposal was ratified by the AFC Executive Committee on 16 April 2014.
NOTE: The following list of associations is provisional, based on the 2014 AFC Champions League. More associations may apply for the 2016 AFC Champions League. The final list of participating associations for the 2016 AFC Champions League is subject to the final decision to be made by the AFC in November 2015.