TORONTO — The Canadian Football League season will be spread over an additional week next year in an effort to promote player safety.
The league announced its schedule on Thursday, two months earlier than last year. The season kicks off a week earlier on June 14, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers host Edmonton.
The schedule stretches the regular-season over 21 weeks rather than 20 to reduce the number of short turnarounds. No team will have to play three games in 11 days, something that had been part of every schedule dating back to 2005. The number of games to be played on less than a full week's rest has been cut to 44, down from 51 last year and 54 the year before.
The number of games played on five days rest has been cut from 21 last year to 15 this year, a 29 per cent decrease. And every team will get three bye weeks instead of two, reducing the number of consecutive weeks a team must play.
The Toronto Argonauts kick off their Grey Cup title defence on June 15 in Saskatchewan, and then return home to raise their championship banner on June 23 when they host Calgary in a Grey Cup rematch.
Rounding out opening weekend is a double-header on June 16 that has Hamilton visiting Calgary and Montreal travelling to Vancouver to battle the B.C. Lions.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the early release of the schedule is in response to fans.
"For years, our fans have asked to have the schedule released as early as possible, preferably in time to consider buying season tickets as gifts for family and friends," Ambrosie said in a statement. "We are pleased today to deliver on that request. Not only is this schedule out two months earlier than last year's, it promises a season that starts a little sooner and will deliver all the excitement Canadians have come to expect from the CFL."
The schedule will conclude with the 106th Grey Cup in Edmonton on Nov. 25.
Labour Day Weekend features the traditional rivalries — Montreal visits the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday, Aug. 31; the Bombers visit the Riders on Sunday, Sept. 2; and the holiday Monday on Sept. 3 features a doubleheader, with Edmonton at Calgary in the afternoon followed by Toronto at Hamilton in the evening.