John Nixon says Carlisle United would have been at risk of being thrown out of the Football League had they turned their backs on the controversial EFL Trophy.

Nixon, a Blues co-owner and EFL board member, was challenged by fans at a forum at Brunton Park about United’s decision to vote in favour of the contentious “B Team” format.

That saw Premier League under-21 teams invited into the competition from 2016, with prize money increasing but the new format also seeing fan boycotts and record low crowds.

A supporters’ poll was hugely against the club voting for the change, but United did so, saying it made financial sense given the cash involved.

At the forum, Nixon said: “Nigel [Clibbens, chief executive] and the board took the economic decision that it was right for the club.

“Even if they'd voted not to do it, we wouldn't be in a position as a club not to enter into an EFL competition.

“If the club were not prepared to enter it, we could have been thrown out of the league.”

It is not believed Nixon's comments referred to any specific threat to expel clubs from the League.

Nixon insisted there was no “right and wrong” in the issue and said the extra money involved came at a time the gap between the Premier League to the Championship and then to the lower leagues “is getting so big it's almost impossible.”

Many of Brunton Park’s all-time lowest crowds, including some three-figure attendances, have come since the new format was introduced.

The visit of Wolves under-21s this season drew only 893 fans, the third-lowest crowd for a first-team game in the stadium's history.

League bosses have said crowds have risen since the first season of the new format, but many attendances have still fallen well short of the equivalent rounds when the Trophy was the sole preserve of lower-league clubs.

Clibbens added: “The club made a tough decision that it thought having the competition in the form we've got now was in the best interests of the club.

“The gates at these games is no good for anybody. As far as reinvigorating the competition in the early rounds, it hasn't worked.

“I would like to see the competition in a different form, but isn't going to change for the short term.”

Nixon, who represents League Two clubs on the EFL board, was later asked by a fan what the League is doing to preserve the pyramid amid fears of Championship clubs leading a breakaway and forming a “Premier League Two”.

He said the lower-leagues were leading on potential changes to governance, including salary cost management protocol levels.

He added: “We are proposing radical things for the future to preserve football at the right cost.

“We said we're prepared to look at salary caps, size of squad, and like the American system, where you can only spend so much on salaries, other than a couple of wild cards.

“We’re also prepared to look at - can owners simply put money in willy nilly and create the uneven playing field?”

Nixon, meanwhile, as a member of the FA Cup committee, says at a recent meeting it had been decided that VAR would be used from the quarter-final stage in future years, but not before.

That follows ties this season where the system was used in some but not other games in the same round.

The fan who asked the question referred to a goal scored by Cardiff against United in the third round in January, which VAR may have disallowed due to the ball seemingly going out of play.

Nixon also agreed with a suggestion that certain Premier League clubs had shown disrespect to the FA Cup in their approach to the competition this season.