South Korean football league system
The highest level of football in South Korea is the K League Classic which was founded in 1983. K League Challenge was founded in 2013 and is currently a second division. Below the level of the professional leagues is the semi-professional National League, which serves as the third division. The amateur K3 League, which is being considered the fourth division, was added to the setup in 2007.
National League and K3 League are called the third division and the fourth division for convenience, but they are disrelated and individual leagues.
There was no avenue for progression between any of the leagues until 2012, when the K League Challenge was founded.
System by period
Korea Semi-Professional Football League was a semi-professional football league between corporate teams in South Korea from 1964 to 2002. In 1983, with the establishment of K-League, Korea Semi-Professional Football League became the second tier and remained until 2002 before Korea National League, at that time called K2 League, was officially founded in 2003. Fourth tier K3 League was founded in 2007. K League Challenge was created in 2013.
|Season||Tier 1||Tier 2||Tier 3||Tier 4||Tier 5|
|1983–2002||K League||Korea Semi-Professional
|2003–2006||K2 League /
Korea National League
|2013–2016||K League Classic||K League Challenge||Korea National League||K3 League|
|2017–||K3 League Advance||K3 League Basic|
The K League was created in 1983 and remained the only officially organized league competition in the country until the creation of the National League in 2003. The K3 League was created in 2007 to give the structure as it exists today. For each division, its official name, sponsored name and number of clubs is given:
|Level||League / Division|
|1||K League Classic
(Hyundai Oilbank K League Classic)
|2||K League Challenge
(Hyundai Oilbank K League Challenge)
|3||Korea National League
(Incheon International Airport National League)
Below this league structure there are many amateur, university and youth level competitions at varying levels. From 2008, the U-League, a league competition for university football clubs, will begin though it is likely to remain completely independent from the league structure above.
All K League and National League sides qualify for the Korean FA Cup tournament. The top four sides from the Challengers League gained qualification to the next season's FA Cup tournament. Additional qualifiers come from amateur and university level.
The League Cup competition is open to K League teams only, whilst sides from the National League can compete in the National Championship. From 2011, Challengers Cup competition is open to Challengers League teams.
At present, four South Korean sides qualify automatically for the AFC Champions League. Three top teams from K League Classic automatically gains entry to the AFC Champions League. The Korean FA Cup winners also qualify for the AFC Champions League only. However, if the champions of Korean FA Cup are not members of K League, the fourth place of K League Classic the entry.
- K League Classic
- K League Challenge
- Korean National League
- Challengers League
- Korean FA Cup
- Korean League Cup
- Korean Super Cup
- List of football clubs in South Korea
- (Korean) Official K-League website
- (Korean) Official National League website
- (Korean) Official Challengers League website
- (English) ROKfootball.com website