Fri Feb 18 12:31pm EST
Almost a month after it was initially promised (although, by some interpretations, it technically isn't all that late) the CFL's 2011 schedule was finally released Friday at noon Eastern. Two of the games that jump off the schedule (and in fact, attracted plenty of interest even before the official release) involve the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. As expected, they're going to be involved in Touchdown Atlantic II; Hamilton will be "hosting" Calgary in Moncton on Sunday, Sept. 25. What isn't so expected, though, is the news that for the first time since 1995, the Tiger-Cats won't be playing the Toronto Argonauts this Labour Day.
The Touchdown Atlantic move seems like a reasonably logical one. It makes sense to keep one eastern and one western team in the game, and it's also sensible to use two teams that didn't play in it last year. Calgary and Hamilton both turned in solid 2010 seasons, so they should put on a good show for Atlantic Canada. However, it does mean that the Tiger-Cats will have one less home game this season, and that could negatively affect their revenues right before they're preparing to be out of Ivor Wynne Stadium. From this standpoint, it might have made more sense to have Montreal or Winnipeg as the East Division representative this year, and (presuming Touchdown Atlantic will carry on for another couple of years) brought in the Tiger-Cats in the year they're without their home stadium.
That's likely to be seen as a minor quibble compared to the loss of the Labour Day clash with Toronto, though. The Labour Day Battle of Ontario has always been one of the most interesting fixtures on the CFL's schedule, and its demise is going to leave a lot of traditionalists unhappy. Now, the Tiger-Cats will still be playing on Labour Day, but they'll be facing the Montreal Alouettes in the early game instead. The Argos will be on the road that week, facing B.C. in another Braley Bowl on the Friday before Labour Day (Sept. 2). The late game remains the Edmonton-Calgary Battle of Alberta, so at least there's that, but you can imagine there will be Argonauts fans (like the one pictured above enjoying a few brews before the 2010 game) and Tiger-Cats fans upset with the decision, as well as general CFL fans miffed about losing one of the league's most famous games.
According to Drew Edwards of The Hamilton Spectator, the issue with the Labour Day game was the limited number of home dates available to the Argonauts at Rogers Centre. That's understandable; the facility also plays host to the Rogers-owned Blue Jays and tends to give them higher priority than the Argos. There also are concerts and other events held there, so Toronto doesn't have the easiest scheduling circumstances.
However, if a Labour Day date in Toronto was unachievable, why not simply hold the game in Hamilton? Yes, last year's game was there, and there undoubtedly would have been some Argos fans upset with having to go on the road two years in a row, but the Toronto - Hamilton trip isn't that difficult, and there are always fans from both sides at the game. Getting rid of it entirely sacrifices one of the CFL's top rivalries, and that's unfortunate.
(Update: CFL commissioner Mark Cohon has said a Labour Day game in Hamilton would have meant the Argonauts playing six of their first nine games on the road. The team likely wouldn't have been too happy with that from a competitive standpoint, so there is some logic to the move. However, from this perspective, it would have been more logical to use the Labour Day game as one of the starting points for the schedule and work everything else out around it. There aren't a lot of unique games on the CFL schedule, and this move means there will be one less this year.)
(Update 2: This post initially had the Tiger-Cats' Labour Day game in Montreal. They are playing Montreal, but the game is in Hamilton; I read the schedule wrong. Apologies for the error.)
Other notes of interest on the schedule:
— The season will start with the defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes hosting the B.C. Lions on Thursday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Canada Day itself, July 1, has a doubleheader, with Winnipeg at Hamilton and Toronto at Calgary. There are no Saturday games on the opening weekend, which finishes with Edmonton at Saskatchewan Sunday.
— The first Grey Cup rematch comes in Week 2, with Montreal heading to Saskatchewan to face the Roughriders.
— B.C.'s home schedule isn't as bottom-heavy as one might have expected considering the projected Sept. 30 completion date of the B.C. Place renovations. The Lions will host Edmonton in the second Friday Night Football game that night (the first is Montreal at Winnipeg), but they only have three of their remaining five games at home afterwards. Their schedule's more bottom-packed than a random distribution would have it, which makes sense, but it's not entirely home games in the new building (which might have produced some competitive concerns).