While we all know that many hurdles remain before the 2021 CFL season can actually be played, the release of a schedule provided a little respite for all the downtrodden fans who missed Canadian football action in 2020 (which includes your friendly scribe).
Before we get into a deep dive on what the Ticats schedule looks like, I would like to applaud the CFL for doing something I have wanted them to do for some time: giving us an unbalanced schedule.
Since the CFL went to nine teams with the addition of the Ottawa Redblacks in 2014, the CFL’s schedule has featured two games between each team plus two extra divisional games.
The problem with this is that the teams in the East Division play more games against the West Division (ten) than the other clubs in the East (eight). My hope was that with the inclusion of a tenth team in Atlantic Canada, we would see an unbalanced schedule used to give more importance to intra-divisional games versus inter-divisional ones.
The CFL gave it us early as a way to cut travel for teams — the Ticats don’t play in B.C. in 2021, while the Saskatchewan Roughriders don’t travel to Hamilton — but I think an increase in games between divisional opponents will produce more intense contests between teams vying for playoff positioning.
My hope is that the unbalanced 2021 schedule will be the start of a permanent change away from the balanced schedule we have seen in the past.
Now, onto the Ticats and what there is to like and dislike about their 2021 schedule.
Good and bad: Four against the Oar
We are starting with a cheat, but I promise this is the only one.
The good part about this is four games against the Argonauts in the form of two separate back-to-back series. Argos-Ticats is always fun no matter how good or bad either team is.
Ticats fans travel in droves to Toronto and Argos fans travel as well as their limited fan base can. The hatred that bubbles up in game one will spill over into game two and that is good for the league.
What is bad about this is two-fold.
For one, these teams won’t see each other after Labour Day. The first back-to-back starts in Toronto in Week 2 on June 19 and concludes in Hamilton on June 24, while the second is slated for September 1 in Toronto and then in Hamilton on Labour Day.
These needed to be spread out more, and I would have given up the first back-to-back to make this happen. I get why the Argos want the Ticats as their home opener — lots of fans will travel from Hamilton to make it Toronto’s largest crowd of the season. Sure the Ticats won the Argos’ home-opener 64-14 last year, but a big audience is a big audience.
Secondly, in addition to the four regular season match-ups, the Argos and Ticats also play their two preseason games against one another, which is normal.
But playing two preseason games and two of the first three regular season games might give fans some rivalry fatigue. It’s a small quibble, because preseason games aren’t well-attended and don’t mean anything in the standings, but familiarity can breed boredom as much as it can breed contempt.
Bad: Wednesday Night Football!?
Sticking with Ticats-Argos here — a Wednesday night game? This just seems ill-advised.
Hamilton and Toronto don’t play again until Labour Day, but the Ticats are in Montreal on August 27 and then play in Toronto on September 1. That is not a lot of rest time.
The Argos are in an even worse situation, as they play the Riders (albeit at home) on the Saturday before the Wednesday game. For a league that instituted an additional bye week due to player safety concerns, having teams play on four and three days of rest, respectively, is not a smart decision.
Good: No game in B.C.
One of the benefits of the unbalanced schedule means the Ticats won’t have to travel to Vancouver to play the Lions this year. The annual Ticats-Lions contest was always my least favourite simply because it was usually a late kickoff, which made staying up to watch it a chore.
It also sometimes produced less-than-stellar football, as last year’s 13-10 Ticats win shows. I know a lot of people don’t like the unbalanced schedule and want to see every team every year, but my sleep pattern thanks the CFL for sparing the Ticats a trip to the west coast in 2021.
Bad: Bye-bye East Division
One of the scheduling quirks I liked from the CFL over the last few years was a focus on intra-divisional games at the end of the year.
Does anyone else remember the two-game East Division championship series between the Ticats and Redblacks in 2015? The teams had identical records and those two games were going to decide who got the bye and who had to play in the East Semi-Final.
Ottawa beat an undermanned Ticats squad twice — the first one somewhat controversially — and that meant the East Final would be at TD Place instead of Tim Hortons Field. It made for great stakes at the end of the season, and was something I wanted more of going forward.
The CFL — at least for the Ticats — has completely abandoned late-season divisional matchups. The last time the Ticats play a team from their own division is in Week 17 when they travel to Montreal — a team likely to be battling them for divisional supremacy.
After that it’s three games against the West — at Edmonton, vs. B.C., at Calgary — with a bye sandwiched in to end the season. This is just a miss for me, especially considering the season may not unfold exactly as planned.
The CFL would have been smart to load up the inter-divisional games early on, so that if they were forced to be canceled or postponed, they would do the least amount of harm. As is, the Ticats could theoretically end up playing more games against the West than against the East, which isn’t ideal.
Good: Bye week spacing
Every team gets three bye weeks again in 2021 and it is a time-honoured tradition to complain about them.
Sometimes the complaints are warranted — remember when Ottawa had two byes in the last three weeks of the season a couple years ago? — but mostly they’re not. The Ticats have byes in Weeks 4, 8 and 19, with an official bye in Week 14 (they technically play two games in Week 13) and that feels like pretty even spacing.
The schedule breaks down into three games then a bye, three games then a bye, six games then a bye, four games then a bye and then two games to end the season (and then a bye while they get set to host the East Final at Tim Hortons Field).
As far as when the Ticats get their bye weeks, it is hard to find anything to complain about.
Bad: Where’s the home stand?
The Ticats are one of three teams to not have back-to-back weeks with a home game on their schedule (the Stamps and Riders are the other two).
The only times the Ticats will play twice in a row at Tim Hortons Field is when a bye week is in between their games. They have two two-game road trips, but they don’t have a stretch where they play two consecutive weeks at home. They aren’t the only team dealing with it, but it does feel weird for each team to not have at least one type of home stand on their schedule.
Good: Few late-night kickoffs
With the lack of a game in B.C. in the upcoming season, the Ticats play just one late-night game in all of 2021. It comes in Week 21 when they play a Friday night game in Calgary that kicks off at 9:30 p.m. local time.
They do start the season with an 8:30 p.m. kickoff in Winnipeg, but every other game either kicks off at 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. local time, with two afternoon games tossed in as well — Labour Day is a 1:00 p.m. kickoff, while their home game against Edmonton kicks off at 4:00 p.m.).
Late-night games are always tough, so it’s nice to see that most Ticats fans who want to watch the games won’t have to stay up very late to do so.