The good, the bad, and the “huh?” of the Ticats schedule

To the delight of many, the CFL finally released its 2016 schedule yesterday afternoon. The release of the schedule always generates excitement, and this year is no different. We now finally know when and where the games will be played. It makes the start of the season feel that much closer.

The Ticats, for the first time since 2012, have what can best be called a normal schedule. Last year, the Pan Am Games forced them out of the city for the entire first month of the season. The year before, it was delays in actually getting the stadium completed that forced the Ticats to play three games at McMaster before finally christening Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day. And 2013 was, of course, the year in Guelph.

The 2016 season is finally when the Ticats will not have to deal with outside forces, but that doesn’t mean their schedule is without its quirks, be they good or bad (and in one case, odd).

The Good

Season opener in Toronto
This had to be. The Argos will open the BMO Field era by hosting the Ticats in a Week 1 matchup that will also make the opening of the CFL season. It just makes sense. The Argos want a big crowd for their BMO opener and playing the Ticats virtually guarantees a packed house on opening night. Also, in an interesting piece of trivia, the Ticats were Toronto’s first opponents in their old home, the SkyDome, when the Argos began playing there in 1989. The Ticats won that matchup 24-15. Hamilton fans will hope for a similar result on June 23.

Also, this game will mark the Ticats debut of Chad Owens. And it will come against his former team, no less. Owens will likely want to exact a little revenge on his old squad for unceremoniously dumping him during the offseason. Owens will no doubt be highly motivated to show the Argos they were wrong for letting him go, and there is no better way to do that than by having a monster game against his former club.

Backloaded home schedule
With the impediments of the last three years no longer a concern, there was a belief that the Ticats might have a more balanced schedule. That turned out not to be the case. Despite not dealing with any disruptions, the team still finds itself with a somewhat odd schedule, one that will see them play four of their last five games at home, and travel outside of Ontario just once after August. They say it is not how you start, but how you finish, and a backloaded home schedule means the Ticats have a chance to finish very strong. If the team can be at or near the .500 mark by Labour Day, they could go on a run much like the defending champion Eskimos did last year that got them all the way to the Grey Cup.

Placement of their bye weeks
One of most underrated part of the schedule, or at least the part that few people really scrutinize, is the placement of a team’s bye weeks. Due to the odd number of teams, someone will be off the first week (this year, it’s Saskatchewan) and the last week (Calgary), with neither of those being particularly enticing. Therefore, the Ticats have to be happy with bye weeks that occur not too late and not too early. The first bye for the Ticats will be in Week 6 and the second will come in Week 16. Not too shabby.

The Bad

Four-game road trip
The negative of a backloaded home schedule is that it has to balance out with road games earlier in the year, and hoo-boy, do the Ticats have one mega road trip this year. After opening with the Argos and then back-to-back games at home against BC and Winnipeg, the Ticats will hit the road for four straight starting in Montreal and ending in BC, with stops in Edmonton and Winnipeg in between. For a team that could possibly be without its star quarterback, that four game road trip could put the Ticats in a large hole to start the season.

Football-less summer
The other negative aspect of that road trip means the Ticats will go from July 7 to August 20 without playing a game at Tim Hortons Field. That essentially makes it a football-free summer in Hamilton, and while there are probably plenty of people happy that they won’t have to sit in the hot summer conditions, they will likely wish there was one or two more home games during the summer months when they are sitting outside in the cold weather in October and November.

Labour Day under the lights
This might bring grief, but playing the Labour Day Classic at 6:30 local time kind of defeats the purpose of having the game on a holiday Monday. With the game at 1:00 p.m., people can enjoy an afternoon of football and then unwind after the game before heading back to work and school the following day. With the game kicking off at 6:30, that means it won’t end until almost 10:00 p.m. and people will have to rush home to get themselves ready for work/school the next day. It is not ideal, and while the game will sell out like always, the Argos-Ticats half of the Labour Day double header should always take place at 1:00 p.m. Period.

The “Huh?”

Road game against the Argos on NFL’s opening weekend
Of all the things that were unveiled with the release of the schedule, the Labour Day Classic rematch between the Ticats and Argos taking place on the opening Sunday of the NFL season is the most mind boggling of them. Yes, the CFL should not create its schedule to avoid going head-to-head with the NFL, but if there is one Sunday they should at least attempt to avoid, it is the NFL’s opening weekend. Pitting the two southern Ontario teams against one another on the NFL’s first weekend is mind-bogglingly stupid. Southern Ontario, whether people like to admit it or not, is where the NFL presence is strongest, and it is likely that many people will skip going to the game at BMO Field in lieu of staying home and channel surfing. Don’t be surprised if that game is one of the lowest-attended games of the Argos season. That game is the lone Sunday game the Ticats play in 2016, but it is probably the worst Sunday they could possibly play on.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.