CFL releases 'comeback' 2021 schedule, including fans in stadiums
For as much gloom and doom as there has been around the Canadian Football League over the past number of months, there's now a flicker of hope for players, coaches and fans for the upcoming season.
The Canadian Football League is ready for a comeback.
On Friday, the league announced its 2021 schedule with the first game of the season featuring a 2019 Grey Cup rematch between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday, June 10.
The season will conclude in late November with the 2021 Grey Cup being played in Hamilton on Sunday, Nov. 21 at Tim Hortons Field.
"We're looking forward to hosting our comeback season in our stadiums, in front of our fans," said Randy Ambrosie, commissioner of the CFL.
"With this schedule, we're signalling that we're looking forward with optimism to playing in 2021."
For the first time since 1919 the Grey Cup was not awarded after the league cancelled the 2020 season in August.
WATCH | Devin Heroux examines decision to cancel 2020 CFL season:
Training camps next season will begin in early May, with the first pre-season games coming in the last week of the month.
After failing to take to the field in 2020 due to the pandemic, the league is putting a heavy focus on regional rivalries to reduce travel for players.
While the revamped schedule is signalling optimism, there are still a number of unanswered questions, including how hundreds of American players are able to cross the border to play.
In the past, teams would normally play two divisional teams twice and two divisional teams three teams and then play non-divisional teams twice, home and away. Now, teams will be playing three divisional teams, three times and will play one non-divisional team just once.
For example, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will play Edmonton, Calgary and B.C. three times and Winnipeg twice. They will then play Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa twice but will only face Hamilton once during the season.
Schedule preserves tradition
While there are some small changes, the new comeback schedule is laced with many CFL traditions.
There is a full slate of classic matchups on Labour Day Weekend with the Montreal Alouettes visiting the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday, Sept. 3, the Saskatchewan Roughriders hosting the Bombers on Sunday, Sept. 5 and a doubleheader on the holiday, Monday, Sept. 6, with the Toronto Argos in Hamilton and Edmonton playing the Stamnpeders in Calgary.
"As we look forward to a new season, we are encouraged by the reports about vaccines, treatments and rapid testing in the news," Ambrosie said.
"We will continue to work with our local public health authorities in 2021. We thank our fans, partners and broadcasters for their continuing support and look forward to enjoying great Canadian football with them."
Thanksgiving football is back on Monday, Oct. 11 when the Redblacks visit the Alouettes. The regular season comes to a close with a doubleheader on Saturday, Oct. 30 featuring two divisional matchups with the Alouettes in Toronto and Edmonton visiting the Bombers.
The playoffs begin on the first Sunday in October featuring the Eastern and Western division semifinals. That will be followed by the divisional finals on Sunday, Nov. 14, ultimately leading to the Grey Cup in Hamilton a week later.