The CFL released its 2023 schedule on Tuesday, giving fans around the league the chance to map out their summer and fall accordingly.
Not all schedules are created equal among the league’s nine teams. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ slate of games was mostly fine this past season, except for an awful stretch in which they played the Toronto Argonauts four times in five weeks and not once after Labour Day.
The Ticats will start their 2023 campaign by heading to Winnipeg to take on the Blue Bombers on Friday, June 9 and will open their home schedule against the team that beat them in the East Semi-Final, the Montreal Alouettes, on Friday, June 23.
Hamilton’s schedule, like every team’s schedule, has a mix of some good, some bad, and one thing so bizarre that I initially suspected it was an error.
Here are my thoughts on the 2023 schedule for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Good: Staying off balance
Though I seem to be in the minority judging by what I’ve read on social media, I’m ecstatic that the CFL has decided to embrace an unbalanced schedule. They’ve had unbalanced schedules since 2021 and will have one once again in 2023.
An unbalanced schedule means that each team doesn’t visit every other team over the course of the season, which is a turn off for some fans. For instance, the B.C. Lions didn’t play in Hamilton last season and it was unfortunate to miss out on a chance to see Nathan Rourke. This year, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will not visit Hamilton and I understand why that would make some people upset. I am not one of those people.
I am of the belief that unless the CFL plans to scrap divisions, which is another debate for another day, they need to make divisional matchups more meaningful and one way to do that is to play more of them. Hamilton playing three games a year against Ottawa and Montreal and four against Toronto — so long as they are spread out — is not a bad idea from where I sit.
Bad-ish: Not enough afternoons
The Tabbies will play just three afternoon games in 2023, two of them at home and one on the road. They will host their annual Labour Day Classic at 3:30 p.m. ET (more on that in a second) and their clash with the Bombers at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday, September 16 will start at 4 p.m. local time. Their final game of the regular season, an October 28 showdown with the Alouettes, will also be played at 4 p.m. on a Saturday.
That means 15 of the team’s 18 games will take place in the evening, though local fans will be happy to know there is only one game scheduled to start after 9 p.m. and that’s their July 13 clash with the Edmonton Elks at Commonwealth Stadium.
It could have been worse — the Ticats did avoid the dreaded 10 p.m. start time for their game in British Columbia — but the lack of afternoon games is a bit of a bummer. Maybe it’s just me, but I really like afternoon football — especially on weekends in the late summer and early autumn.
Good: very few Thursdays
The Ticats caught a break in that they only play two Thursday games in 2023, both against the Edmonton Elks. Thursday night games are the scourge of the CFL schedule and to escape the summer with only two of them feels like a win.
I feel bad for Elks and Bombers fans, though, as each of those teams has five Thursday night games in the first 12 weeks of the season.
Bad: no Labour Day Classic home-and-home
Home-and-home series are dumb and were partially ruined last year when the Ticats and Argos played far too frequently in a short span of time. With that said, the Labour Day Classic should always be followed up with a rematch the following week in Toronto.
For the second year in a row, however, the Ticats and Argos will not clash in a rematch the next weekend. Both teams will play the following weekend but not against one another. The Ticats will travel to Ottawa for a Friday night tilt with the Redblacks, while the Argos will host the Alouettes on Saturday afternoon.
It also seems unfair that Hamilton will have to play coming off three days of rest while the Redblacks are coming off a bye week. The easiest way to fix this problem is by having the black and gold head down the Q.E.W. to take on the double blue on the Saturday after Labour Day each year.
It’s nice to see this year’s games between Hamilton and Toronto spread out more than a year ago, but there should always be one back-to-back in early September.
Good: No other back-to-backs either
While the lack of a Labour Day home-and-home is not something I’m thrilled about, the lack of any other back-to-backs is something I’m beyond thrilled to see.
Back-to-back games can be fun but they can also be tedious, as evidenced by last year’s constant matchups between Hamilton and Toronto. The CFL has gone in the complete opposite direction from a season ago because the Ticats will not play a single opponent in back-to-back games all year.
The team also has only one stretch where they don’t play at home in back-to-back weeks and that occurs in the first two games of the season, one of which will take place at nearby BMO Field in Toronto.
As far as balance goes with whom and where the team will play, you couldn’t get much better than what the Tabbies will get in 2023.
Bad: No Bo-mecoming
If pending free agent quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell signs a contract extension with the Tiger-Cats, he will do so knowing that a trip to his old stomping grounds will not be in the cards in 2023 as the Tabbies do not play in Calgary this season.
Much like when the league didn’t have Andrew Harris return to Winnipeg last season — though, in the league’s defence, they didn’t know Harris would join the Argonauts when the schedule was released — Mitchell will not get the chance to beat his old team in the stadium he called home for 10 years and that is a whiff on their part.
While No. 19 signing in Hamilton is far from a done deal, despite the team recently putting on the full-court press, the likelihood that he will re-sign seems high. Not having him go back to the place where he became the only quarterback in franchise history to win two Grey Cups smacks of a giant missed opportunity.
Huh!?: Labour Day start time
Now we get to the biggest question mark of the whole schedule: why is the Labour Day Classic being played at 3:30 p.m. ET?
The league has experimented with later start times for the Labour Day Classic in the past and saw a disastrous lightning delay stretch the game from 6:30 p.m. to after midnight in 2017. Moving the game to the mid-afternoon isn’t as bad as moving it to the late afternoon, but it still doesn’t seem necessary.
Last year’s Labour Day Classic — a game the home team entered with a 3-8 record, I might add — drew the largest crowd in Tim Hortons Field history. Why is the game being moved to a new time the following year?
By pushing this game back, the league is also pushing back the start time of the second half of the Labour Day Classic doubleheader with the Elks and Stamps scheduled to start at 7 p.m. instead of their traditional 4:30 p.m. start time.
The CFL had it perfect and decided to mess it up. In the future, this should be simple: the Tiger-Cats and Argonauts play at 1 p.m. before the Stampeders and Elks play at 4 p.m. If any proposed schedule says anything different, throw it away.