SPORTS

No place like home? Argonauts play 2015 CFL home opener in Fort McMurray

02/13/2015 02:17 EST | Updated 04/15/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The Argonauts are listed as the host team, but they will be almost 2,600 kilometres from Toronto when they open their 2015 CFL season — and it will be well into August before they finally return to Rogers Centre.

The CFL released its 2015 schedule on Friday, and what was expected to be a messy timetable because of the Pan American Games and the FIFA Women's World Cup still delivered some surprises.

Several CFL clubs are impacted, but none more so than the Argos, who burn a home date hosting the Edmonton Eskimos at Shell Place in Fort McMurray, Alta., in the season opener for both teams on June 27.

The Eskimos need to vacate Commonwealth Stadium that day because of a pair of World Cup quarter-final matches, but the situation is not nearly as dire for Edmonton, which doesn't lose a home date and gets to play an away game close to home.

"It's not an ideal situation obviously," Argonauts executive chairman and chief executive officer Chris Rudge said. "It's not ideal for our fans, it's not ideal for our football team in terms of it being our home game in Edmonton's backyard. So let's not kid ourselves, it's not what we would have chosen to do under normal circumstances."

After the Argos play their opener in what is sure to be a hostile environment, they play four more games on the road as southern Ontario hosts the Pan Am Games before finally returning home to host the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Aug. 8.

Rudge said the Argos were hoping for a more balanced schedule, but the list of available dates provided by Rogers forced the team to bunch up its home games in the second half of the season.

"We couldn't get in there until Aug. 8, and then we had six weeks in a row in October and November. And so, when you look at that, and we discussed it with the league, that's not an ideal situation," Rudge said. "I mean we've got lots of weekend games in there, but you would like to have a more balanced schedule. We do recognize the Rogers facility is in great demand for any number of activities, not just baseball, and we had to work around the 10 dates we were given."

The Argos play five of their last six games at home. Rudge said the team gave up one of the home dates offered late in the season to avoid being bumped if the Toronto Blue Jays, the primary tenant at Rogers Centre, make the baseball post-season.

The 2015 schedule is the latest hurdle for the Argos. The CFL team's lease at Rogers Centre expires after the 2017 season and won't be renewed, and owner David Braley has been actively trying to sell the club.

Rudge is hopeful schedule relief will come in the future if the Argos can move into BMO Field, home of Major League Soccer's Toronto FC.

"This is not the best situation for our fans, let's not candy-coat it," Rudge said. "I know Mr. Braley and others are having conversations, and we hope something will happen in the not-too-distant future that will see us affect a lease with (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) to play in BMO Field. If that happens, that's probably the biggest piece of good news our fans could get."

The July 10-26 Pan Am Games also affected Hamilton, which opens its season against the Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders and plays its first four games on the road before coming home to Tim Hortons Field to host the Argos on Aug. 3.

The regular season kicks off with the Ottawa Redblacks visiting the Montreal Alouettes on June 25 — the first of 10 regular-season Thursday night games during the summer months.

Winnipeg opens its season in Regina against rival Saskatchewan, while the B.C. Lions have a Week 1 bye before opening in Ottawa.

The 2015 season culminates with the 103rd Grey Cup on Nov. 29 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.

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