After initial launch plans were disrupted by the pandemic last summer, the 27-team Minor League Cricket (MiLC) T20 franchise tournament is set to kick off on July 31 at seven different venues across the United States of America. The tournament is meant to act as a feeder into the higher-profile six-team Major League Cricket (MLC) T20 franchise league which is designated for launch in 2023. That is the tournament USA Cricket wants to be on par with Full-Member-run T20 leagues around the world. Here is a rundown of how the MiLC will play out.

Who's playing?
American Cricket Enterprise (ACE), USA Cricket's commercial partner, has already signed more than a dozen overseas players to three-year contracts with an eye on having them as anchor players for the six-team MLC, as well as putting them on the ICC residency qualification pathway to potential USA selection.

These players are also available to feature for MiLC franchises and include Sami Aslam (ex-Pakistan, Golden State Grizzlies), Corey Anderson (ex-New Zealand, Irving Mustangs), Smit Patel (ex-India U-19, Manhattan Yorkers), Shehan Jayasuriya (ex-Sri Lanka, Silicon Valley Strikers), Dane Piedt (ex-South Africa, DC Hawks), Justin Dill (ex-South Africa U-19, New Jersey Stallions) and Corne Dry (ex-South Africa U-19, Atlanta Fire). Aside from these names, numerous West Indian players have also been signed as Wildcard overseas players, including Rahkeem Cornwall (Atlanta Fire).

The teams were put together at a draft that took place earlier this year with squads of 16 to 18 players. According to league rules, there is a mandatory policy to include at least one U-19 and one U-21 player in each starting XI to promote development. There is also a shift to play as many matches as possible on natural turf wickets, which in the past has been one of the biggest hurdles for players attempting to transition from club cricket to international tournaments. MiLC's first season will feature at least 11 venues using turf wickets with more planned for 2022.

What are they playing for?
MiLC will feature an USD 250,000 prize pool, the largest for any tournament organised in the USA. The tournament champions will receive half of that and the runners-up USD 30,000 while the Division Champions who do not reach the final will receive USD 15,000.

More than 100 matches will be livestreamed on YouTube throughout the tournament, offering more visibility to players both locally and internationally.

Split across four divisions on a regional basis
The 27 teams have been split into two conferences (Atlantic and Pacific) with two divisions (Eastern and Southern; Central and Western) in each conference. Because of the odd number of teams the schedule is slightly unbalanced. Both Pacific Conference divisions have seven teams and each will play a 15-match league slate of home and away fixtures against the other six teams within their division plus three matches against teams in the other division within their conference.

The Southern Division holds six teams and will play a 14-match schedule consisting of home and away fixtures within the division plus four crossover matches with the Eastern Division. Meanwhile, the seven Eastern Division teams will play a 16-match schedule featuring home and away fixtures within the division plus four matches against teams in the Southern Division. The league phase runs from July 31 to September 19 with matches played on weekends to ensure player availability in a competition featuring both professionals and amateurs. In some instances, teams will be playing a morning-and-afternoon double-header on the same day.

Eight-team playoffs
Playoffs qualification will be determined on a divisional basis. The top two in each division advance to the playoffs where the division winner will play the second-place team from the opposite division in their conference (i.e. Western Division champion vs Southern Division runners-up) on September 25 and 26 in a best-of-three round. The winner of each quarter-final will advance to the championship weekend on October 2 and 3 at Church Street Park in Morrisville, North Carolina.

That weekend will be a straight knockout. The two teams advancing from the conference semi-finals (i.e. Western Division champion vs Southern Division champion) will play each other in a national semi-final on October 2 before the conference champions square off in the tournament final on October 3.

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna