Time to unmark the calendars

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The unflattering opening week sticks out the most in the 2011 CFL schedule

The 13th Man
Jonathan Hamelin
Sports Editor

The CFL needs to remember that if isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

The 2011 CFL schedule was released last month, and one of the first things that this observer noticed was the rather lame opening week of play. The season opens up on June 30, as the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes begin their defence against the visiting British Columbia Lions. The next day, in a doubleheader, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers travel to Hamilton to battle the Tiger-Cats, and then the Calgary Stampeders welcome the Toronto Argonauts to town. Finally, on July 3, the Edmonton Eskimos open up on the road against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

With only one real rivalry game scheduled for the opening week (Edmonton-Saskatchewan), it is hardly an opening schedule to be excited about.

Last season, the CFL seemed to nail the schedule almost perfectly.

The 2010 season opened up on Canada Day, featuring the then-defending Grey Cup champion Alouettes traveling to Saskatchewan. It was a Grey Cup rematch of the year before. As soon as the schedule was released, fans all across the CFL began circling the date on their calendars. That game was arguably the most anticipated season opener in league history.

To make things even better, another game (Toronto at Calgary) followed. The Canada Day doubleheader really generated increased exposure for the league and got the season started right.

The CFL had the chance to build off the success of their opening week in 2010 this upcoming season. Having Saskatchewan travel to Montreal for an opening day clash would have generated as much or more excitement than the year before.

Instead, the Lions are visiting Montreal. When these teams met in Montreal in Week 3 of 2010, the game went to the Alouettes by an unflattering score 16-12. Exciting! It is usually a slower-paced game when the Lions travel to Montreal. If this happens again, it will be a disastrous way to open the season.

In my opinion, there is a really simple formula the CFL should follow when making the schedule. The first game should always be on Canada Day (it is Canada’s league after all), featuring the defending Grey Cup champion at home against the team they beat. It does not necessarily have to be a doubleheader. The opening game would give the defending champs a chance to hang up their banner and it would give the losing team a chance to get some revenge. Plus, it would be a really exciting game.

After the opening game, the league should try to work in as many rivalry games a possible. Of course, some matchups wouldn’t work. Saskatchewan couldn’t face Winnipeg because of Labour Day and the Banjo Bowl. But that would be a rare exception. This year, for example, Toronto could travel to Hamilton and the Eskimos could travel to Calgary, leaving Winnipeg and B.C. to battle. You couldn’t get a more exciting opening week than that. Why scatter the rivalry games all over the place when they could be put together to create a glorious Week 1?

While glancing at the rest of the 2011 CFL schedule, there wasn’t tons more to pick apart. That is, until I got to Labour Day weekend. Three of the games remain the same as usual, but the one glaring difference stood out. Montreal is traveling to Hamilton for the Labour Day Classic, breaking the longstanding tradition of Toronto journeying to Hamilton.

Instead, the Argos host B.C. I understand Hamilton-Montreal is an upcoming rivalry, but to break up such a classic Labour Day rivalry like Hamilton-Toronto is simply wrong. Personally, the Hamilton-Toronto game is not the Labour Day Classic I most look forward to, but it is definitely ranked right up there with the Saskatchewan-Winnipeg and Edmonton-Calgary games.

All in all, the 2011 CFL schedule has a very impersonal feel to it. It seems as if the league has disregarded what the fans really want and went with what they felt would be a good schedule.

Don’t be surprised if many fans across the league are going to their calendar and erasing the circle around June 30. The anticipation for the opening game in the CFL is no longer there.

It is a great time to be an eraser salesman in Canada, but not so much a fan of the CFL.

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