The CFL schedule being released in December is a thing we can all get used to, right?
For the second consecutive year, the league handed out a Christmas gift to all its fans by unveiling the schedule before Santa had a chance to come down the chimney. Prior years saw the schedule not come out until around mid-February.
With the schedule out, and after having some time to really digest it, I thought I would offer some thoughts, good and bad, on Hamilton’s 2019 slate of games. Let’s start with the good.
The season starts at home
When the Ticats kick off their 2019 schedule by hosting the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Tim Hortons Field it will make the first time in seven seasons that Hamilton has begun a season in Hamilton. No, that is not a typo. The Ticats have not hosted their opening game since 2012, which coincidentally was also against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Ticats string of six straight season openers on the road — Toronto (2013), Saskatchewan (2014), Calgary (2015), Toronto (2016), Toronto (2017), Calgary (2018) — was the longest such streak of away openers in the league by a large margin (the next closest mark over that time was Ottawa’s three straight years opening on the road between 2014-16). It’s beyond high time the Ticats began a season in their own home stadium
Labour Day no longer Labour night
I love Football Day in Hamilton. I had a blast when I took it all in when they did it for the first time in 2016, but I would be lying if, even back then, I couldn’t wait for the Classic to head back to its rightful home with a 1pm kickoff. We get that this year, and while I do remember how uncomfortably hot the last 1pm Labour Day Classic was, I still feel like that game should be what starts Monday festivities, not what ends it (and I also never want to have to brave a two-hour lightning delay and be at a football game for nearly five hours like I was back in 2017).
Bye week placement
No team wants the Week 1 or Week 21 (formerly Week 20) bye. The Ticats have so far been lucky to avoid having either during this current nine-team CFL. With only a few seasons left to play before the league is an even 10 teams — shut it, Drew and Mike — perhaps the Ticats will never have the dreaded opening- or closing-week bye.
But the byes they do have this year are spaced out fairly evenly, with ones coming in Weeks 6, 13 and 18. The gap between the first and second bye is obviously larger than the gap between the second and third, but all in all you can’t really complain about byes coming six weeks into the season, seven weeks after that and five weeks after that.
Division-heavy open and close
The last few seasons have seen the Ticats get out to some less than stellar starts, where the blame was mostly pinned on the fact that team had a slew of Western opponents to start the year. That won’t be a viable excuse in 2019. The Ticats open the season with the Riders, but then play three straight versus division opponents (at Toronto, vs. Montreal, at Montreal), the most Eastern opponents the Ticats will have faced in their first five games since 2010, when three of their first four and eight of their first 10 were against divisional opponents.
But the Ticats also end the season, when playoff races are at their fiercest, with three straight games against three different divisional opponents. The last three weeks of 2019 will see the Ticats host the Redblacks (a team they were beaten by four times a year ago), travel to Montreal to play the Als and then end the season on a Saturday night hosting the Argos. Ticats-Argos has not been a season ender since 2012, and these two teams haven’t met in Hamilton to end a season since 1996. Those three early season and late season contests could be where Hamilton’s 2019 season is decided.
No Labour Day rematch
Even though it is not as traditional as the Calgary-Edmonton and Winnipeg-Saskatchewan back-to-backs, the Hamilton-Toronto Labour Day rematch is always a fun game to attend. That won’t happen this year as the Ticats will have their second of three byes the week after the Classic with the Argos, while Toronto will travel for a Saturday matchup with the Redblacks in Ottawa the following week (with Ottawa coming off a bye, no less, which seems a bit unfair to the double blue, no?). So while it is not a huge deal we won’t see these two teams go at it in back-to-back weeks, it’s still a bummer we will have to wait until 2020 to possibly see it again.
Calgary-Edmonton-Winnipeg death tour
No paraphrase noted Ticats fan Ric Flair: “To be the team, you gotta beat the team.” Well, the Ticats will have their hands full, and have a chance to “be the team,” when they spend weeks 14, 15 and 16 on the road taking on Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. Oh, and to top it all off, they get a Week 17 matchup with Edmonton again, but that one is at home. No matter where the Ticats are in the standings come Week 14, this three-game stretch will tell us if the Ticats of 2019 are contenders or pretenders.
Too much Thursday night, not enough Saturday afternoon
I know, you look at the schedule and see just three Thursday games and wonder what I’m complaining about, but Thursday night football should be abolished regardless of how many games any team plays on them, but given that most fans have to be at work the following day, scheduling a Thursday night game for 9:30pm local time is just rude (such is the case when the Ticats travel to Regina to take on the Roughriders in Week 8). The Ticats host just one of these Thursday games — the season opener against those same Riders — and travel to Montreal for the other. But Thursday games suck and need to be gotten rid of permanently.
What also sucks is that just four Ticats game will be played on Saturday afternoon, just one at home (their Week 19 contest against the Redblacks). The other three are a 4pm kickoff in Ottawa in August, another 4pm kickoff in Calgary in September and a 1pm kickoff in Montreal in October. Hamilton plays five other Saturday games, but none of those games start earlier than 7pm, and one even starts at 10pm (their annual trip to B.C. to play the Lions). Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’d much prefer any Saturday games to be afternoon affairs.