By the numbers: a deep dive into the CFL schedule

A little over two weeks ago the 2016 schedule was released which, as always, created a flurry of criticism and discontent from each and every fan base of the nine franchise cities that compromises the Canadian Football League.

In the words of the planners of the week-by-week match-ups: “The joke around the office is you know you’ve done a good job with the schedule when everybody is unhappy.”

With that being said, despite what looks to be one of the most balanced schedules that we have seen in recent memory, there are obviously winners and losers when it comes to the path to the 104th Grey Cup in Toronto on November 27th, 2016.

2016 CFL Schedule Analysis 2 2 3

The above chart and graph breaks down the 2016 CFL as far as average days between games. The top part of the chart are the raw numbers & calculations while the bottom half calculates the percentage variance to the overall league averages per metric. (Note: Red is bad. Black is good) The graph shows the number of days between each game in chronological and sequential order.

Average days of preparation is fairly even across all nine teams with Calgary having a low of 7.5 days on average versus Winnipeg having an additional half-day of rest between games at 8 on average. While an extra half day of preparation does not sound like a lot, if you work that out over a 20 week season, this results in the Bombers having an additional 10 days of time between games than the Stampeders. Yet, average days of rest/preparation between games hardly tells the whole story when it comes to the schedule.

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The above chart details the longest and shortest times between games for each CFL franchise. Most days of preparation is really not much of a distinguisher since it is basically a calculation of your bye-weeks. What is worth noting and analyzing though are the short weeks or the least amount of days between games. British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg manage to avoid the dreaded 5 days or less preparation time situation. Edmonton appears to have received the shortest end of the short stick since on four different occasions, the Eskimos will be on a short week of preparation of only 5 days between games.

Much has been made and discussed with respect to these short weeks in the CFL. This has obviously been a point of contention for all teams’ front offices as well as a focal point for the league itself. The graph below illustrates the different winning percentages for the two extremes as far as scheduling is concerned in the CFL – short weeks and coming off bye weeks.

6In 2014, there were 15 games played in which at least one of the teams only had 5 days of rest or less. Only 5 times did that team come away victorious after having such a short week of preparation. In 2015, there were 22 games contested by a team with 5 days of preparation or less. Those teams went 7 and 15 in those matchups.

While the low winning percentage for teams on short weeks of preparation was as expected, I was surprised to see the winning percentage of teams coming off bye weeks was not higher than it actually worked out.

The league offices of the CFL has obviously taken notice of this issue and have only scheduled 10 games in which at least one of the participants are playing on a short week of 5 days or less.

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The above two graphics illustrate each CFL Team’s Home and Away schedule. Bars above the midpoint represent Home Games while Bars below are Away Games. There can be many interpretations as to the preferred sequence and allotment, but generally a more “choppy” distribution is the most desirable for both the teams themselves as well as fans of those teams. Here are a few salient points to notice:

  • Edmonton has a very formidable challenge of 4 straight away games near the conclusion of the regular season schedule, which will see them away from Commonwealth Stadium for 43 days. They also, along with Toronto, have a league low of only 3 Home games during the last half of the regular season schedule.
  • Hamilton goes on the road for 4 straight games with a league high 44 days between home engagements at Tim Horton’s Field in the first half of the season. They are however rewarded for this early season inconvenience by playing a league high 6 games at home in the back half of the year.
  • Ottawa benefits from having the longest home stand of 4 games at TD Place for basically the entire month of August, yet they must play 5 of their first 6 games on the road to open the season before their late summer home stand.

While most fans speak to the regular season having two distinct parts, before Labour Day and after Labour Day, and while this may very well be true, most coaches and general managers and football operations staffs split the season into six-game segments or thirds.

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The above two graphics show the amount of travel that each team will incur during the stretch drive or last third of the regular season as they push towards the playoffs.

The two Alberta teams, Calgary and Edmonton, will log the most mileage as they travel an incredible 8,439 and 7,694 kilometers respectively from September 23rd & 24th onwards.

While the Eastern division teams typically have the easier travel schedule in terms or distance and time zone due to their franchise proximities, the only team that has a significant advantage over their divisional opponents is the Tiger-Cats as they only travel 2,466 kilometers during the last third of the season. British Columbia, the team that naturally travels the most each and every year, has the second easiest travel schedule during the push for the playoffs during the final 6 weeks.

As we all know the CFL has an “unbalanced” schedule with 16 of your 18 games being played against common opponents – once at home and once at their home. The two remaining games and sites are rotated each season and are played against intra-divisional opponents, thus creating an imbalance.

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The above chart details the extra or third game opponents for each team as well as last season’s winning percentage for those additional game opponents. As expected, Calgary and Edmonton have the easiest opponents based primarily off the fact that they cannot play themselves naturally, nor do they pay each other. Meanwhile, Winnipeg faces the toughest two additional games since they do play the league’s two top teams in 2015 – the Stampeders and Eskimos.

The league should be commended upon delivering one of the most balanced calendars in recent memory, but with an odd number of teams and a multitude of other challenges, there will always be winners and losers when it comes to the regular season schedule.