After a day of leaks of some of its details, the full 2013 CFL schedule was finally released Tuesday, and it contains a historic change that will disappoint fans of Labour Day football. The traditional Labour Day Classic between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts, which wasn't played in 2011, made a brief comeback in 2012, but has been omitted again this year. Despite the stature of the Argos-Ticats game, there have been times over the years where Hamilton and Toronto haven't met on Labour Day, though. What's really amazing is that this will mark the first time since 1949 that there's only been one professional Canadian football game on Labour Day, so the CFL is breaking a tradition that precedes its own official formation in 1958.
Why does this matter? Well, some will say that it doesn't and that the league shouldn't be bound by history. However, a huge part of the CFL's appeal is its prominent connections to the past. The league's gone through plenty of changes since 1958, but eight of the nine franchises from that inaugural season are still around (Montreal left for a while and the current Alouettes team started in Baltimore, but they've embraced the old Alouettes' history). Many of those franchises have history dating back well beyond 1958, too, including the Toronto Argonauts, whose 1873 founding makes them the oldest North American pro sports franchise still using its original name. That's why last year's 100th Grey Cup season was so special; while Canadian football has changed a lot since the University of Toronto Varsity Blues beat the Parkdale Canoe Club to capture the first Grey Cup in 1909, it still feels like there's a direct connection to that past.
Labour Day obviously isn't quite on the same level as the Grey Cup itself, but a year-by-year analysis of CFL schedules posted on the league's website (old schedules can be found there merely by changing "2013" to your selected year in the URL) confirms that playing multiple games on the first Monday in September is a time-honoured tradition. In fact, the CFL has frequently played three Labour Day games and sometimes even four, as in 1980. The last time there was a single Labour Day game came in 1949, almost 10 years before the CFL's official formation. 2013 will be historic for its lack of Labour Day football, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
You see, playing multiple Labour Day games isn't just a tradition that's blindly carried out for no reason. It's a statutory holiday which has been celebrated in Canada since the 1880s, and it's one that's become a time to watch football for many Canadians. Of course, it particularly helps when the games involved feature historic rivalries such as Hamilton-Toronto or Calgary-Edmonton (the lone game that will be played on Labour Day this year), but Canadians have tuned in to watch whatever matchup happens to be on Labour Day. The whole Labour Day weekend of football has been such a big deal in the past that it's received its own sponsorship ("Scotiabank Labour Day Weekend" is prominently displayed on the schedule from 2010-2012, but not this year, even though Scotiabank isn't completely exiting as a sponsor until after 2013), and it's always been one of the league's key weekends. Moving away from that, especially when you consider the games the league has gone with on that weekend instead (the traditional Saskatchewan-Winnipeg clash remains on Sunday, but Hamilton's in B.C. on the Friday and Toronto hosts Montreal on the Tuesday night after Labour Day), is problematic.
Of course, this isn't entirely the CFL's fault. In fact, the key reason there's no clash between the Argos and Tiger-Cats in Toronto on Labour Day appears to be the Toronto Blue Jays; Drew Edwards reports that while there isn't a baseball game on that day, there's one on the Sunday and Rogers Centre officials have said they can't get the stadium ready for football in time. (That seems somewhat curious, as there should be almost 24 hours between the end of an afternoon baseball game Sunday and the start of an afternoon football game Monday, but Rogers Centre availability has been a problem for the Argonauts for years, so it's not all that surprising to see the team once again relegated to second-tier status behind the franchise Rogers owns.)
Meanwhile, the CFL can't play a Labour Day game in the Tiger-Cats' temporary 2013 home at the University of Guelph, because the Gryphons happen to be hosting a CIS Labour Day clash of their own against the University of Windsor. (This isn't news, either; Ontario University Athletics released its 2013 football schedule back in December, showing that not all Canadian football leagues take this long to plan their 2013 campaign.) A Labour Day game in Vancouver also doesn't appear to be an option, as the Whitecaps play a Major League Soccer game against Chivas USA that Sunday night. There are plenty of complicating factors that go into the CFL schedule too, including balancing teams' home-road splits and the time each team has between games, so it's not particularly easy to rearrange.
Still, the league has always managed to pull off multiple Labour Day games before, and as that's one of the highest-profile dates on the calendar, you'd think that would be a starting point when putting a schedule together. It's not completely the league's fault there will be a historic lack of CFL football on this Labour Day. The Whitecaps' and Blue Jays' schedules are key factors here, and they're obviously outside the league's control. Regardless of who's to blame, though, the end result is disappointing for those of us who love CFL history and the many Canadians who love Labour Day football.