Bennett's Breakdown: Looks aren’t everything but...

Bennett's Breakdown: Looks aren’t everything but...

         

By Donnovan Bennett - Sportsnet TV Personality

Follow Donnovan on Twitter: @donnovanbennett

The column that I fully expect to elicit the most debate is my ranking of current CIS uniform combinations.

Nowhere has CIS football evolved more than in the outfitting of its participants. Although there is still great room for growth (uniform team footwear, gloves, base layers) the programs that have raised the bar deserve recognition. There is no coincidence that these are also some of the top programs in the country in terms of recruiting and thus performance.

Outside of your stadium facility, no football centric issue is of higher importance to recruits than uniform options. For many recruits, it's a deal breaker. Does it outweigh having a great business school? No. Will it be the difference between getting in the door for a visit or having to leave a voice mail for a potential recruit? Yes.

That said, I've ranked the nation's ten best outfitted programs based on a few simple criteria: quality, variability, uniqueness and reaction from recruits. The great part of this conversation is the fact that it's subjective and fluid. Teams are constantly adding more options and updating their helmets. The CIS football fashion shows continue to grow and get more elaborate.

** VOTE: What is your favourite CIS football jersey from Donnovan's selections below **

No. 10 SHERBROOKE VERT & OR (Adidas)

Number of helmets: 1
Number of jerseys: 2

Sherbrooke left Under Armour for Adidas in recent years. They've got a great colour scheme which they take full advantage of and have incorporated more and more grey throughout the years. Their matte grey helmet is one of the best in the country and is matched well with matte grey pants which they wear often at home or away. Instead of an easy choice with white pants, they mix it up with forest green pants. They opt for the highest level of technology as their Adidas tech fit jerseys are tight and fitted, ensuring that their players don't look like they are wearing one-size-fits-all hand me downs. The other thing that differentiates their uniforms is the font choice. A bold font with the lettering on the jersey matched with an old school, medieval style S on the helmets makes their uniforms stand out.

 No. 9 McMASTER MARAUDERS (Nike)

Number of helmets: 1
Number of jerseys: 2

White on the road, maroon at home. Similar to Alabama, the Marauders choose tried-and-true tradition over trend setting. Their decision to go with a singular pair of black pants is a good one as they go well with both sets of tops and have great detailing that you can only really appreciate when looking up close. Although having only one helmet is a less than inspired choice, they do set themselves apart with their use of helmet stickers. You can tell on sight which Marauder players are often assignment correct and giving great effort as the small decals on the back of the helmet prove to be a badge of honour above and beyond the box score. Players in the past have gotten experimental about where and how they place those hard earned stickers on their helmet, making for some interesting looking. The team-issued shorter black socks are also a trend that MAC has been at the forefront of, as many teams as a rule are starting to move away from knee-high socks to a 3/4 style sock. It has style merits but is also more comfortable in the hot weather contests early in the season. MAC's strength is actually the gear they provide their players off the field as the best roster of hoodies, golf shirts and bags are handed out to the men wearing maroon. Because of it, the Maroon shop on campus is constantly where parents and students purchase licensed Marauder Nike apparel. Adidas has successful team shops at Queen's and the University of Alberta and the notion of using the great attire players are now getting as a monetary vehicle is one more schools need to maximize. The first order of business is having gear worth wearing and a team worth rooting for and MAC has been successful on both fronts.

 No. 8 WILFRID LAURIER GOLDEN HAWKS (Adidas)

Number of helmets: 2
Number of jerseys: 2

Mike Faulds learned from his time at York how good white helmets can look. Not even he knew what a lift they'd give his program. After having captains Dillon Campbell and Chris Ackie secretly reveal them in a team meeting before their homecoming game, to say the Golden Hawks were enthused is an understatement. In what many thought was going to be a close ball game, Laurier dominated Carleton on their way to a 53-3 win and the team's best performance during Faulds' tenure as head coach. Their white helmets with the traditional Golden Hawk is complimented with a purple outline. Their best uniform combination is their all white look. White helmet, jersey and pants gives them a clean, fresh look which matches the clean restart the program has under taken in an attempt to rebuild itself as a national powerhouse.

 No. 7 CALGARY DINOS (Nike)

Number of helmets: 1
Number of jerseys: 2

After being the second school to sign with Under Armour, Calgary then left to become one of the growing number of schools that have deals with Nike. Currently the top three teams in the CIS rankings wear the swoosh. The last four Vanier Cups were all-Nike affairs, too large of a sample size to be a coincidence. Clearly, Nike is interested in doing business with the top schools. Clearly, top recruits are interested in wearing a brand that has proved its worth in the football arena for decades. Calgary is a great example of this paradigm. At home, the Dinos wear the tried-and-true red with yellow trim, and on the road it's white with red trim. I'm not a big fan of the yellow numbers instead of the standard white, but Calgary has intelligently added more yellow and less black, helping to differentiate their uniforms from the Stampeders, who share the same city and stadium. Calgary has long been one of the growing number of teams with names on the backs of their jerseys. They've also been one of the first teams to use their pants as a design outlet. Both their red and white pants are interchangeable with their home and away jerseys, and no matter the locale you can read "Calgary" on them. With the red pants it's in big letters down the side, while on the whites it's at the back on the tail bone. No real estate is taken for granted when trying to differentiate from the standard uniform look. Another differentiating point is the Dinos' new interlocking UC logo on one side of the helmet - a throwback style with a new-look font. It's no doubt a big hit with recruits and a possible reason the Dinos continue to steal talent from neighboring provinces.

 No. 6 CARLETON RAVENS (Nike)

Number of helmets: 4
Number of jerseys: 4

We have yet to see the full 24 possible Ravens uniform combinations as they've been back in CIS for less than two seasons. With the same colour scheme and same philosophy of apparel abundance, Carleton has quickly started a rivalry with Guelph solely on jersey concepts alone. Another school that uses Oregon as inspiration, the Ravens' helmets bare as much resemblance to what the Ducks have to offer as the locker room that houses them. Carleton has used Downstream, an Oregon-based firm that has designed the Ducks locker room and jerseys, to help in their rebrand and you can see how the stylistic choices from their uniform match the branding in their world-class locker room and trickle down into their athletic department and website. After being reluctant to switch up the jersey combinations a season ago, they've now started to do so. They controversially decided to excuse themselves from the Carleton school-wide deal with Adidas to be outfitted in Nike, one of the perks of being run as a singular not-for-profit entity by the Old Crows, with limited university oversight. Only time will tell if the decision was prudent.

 No. 5 MONTREAL CARABINS (Adidas)

Number of helmets: 2
Number of jerseys: 3

This ranking is mainly based off the strength of one jersey, their lead grey tech fit. On an island, this is the best single jersey in the country. It is the way grey jerseys should be done. In relation to Western, which is light grey and can look washed out on TV, the Montreal lead grey pops on TV and compliments the white three stripes on the shoulders well. The shiny grey helmets with the old-school blue M emblem is one of the country's best helmets. Nothing is overly special about their home blues or whites. The province of Quebec's colours are well represented in Montreal's uniforms but it's the grey jersey - which has little colour affiliation to the university at all - that is the one that garners the school the most attention.

 No. 4 WESTERN MUSTANGS (Under Armour)

Number of helmets: 2
Number of jerseys: 3

Western was the first institution with a school-wide deal as their all-athletics Adidas agreement in the early 2000's is the blueprint that many of the current sponsorships stem from. As the first program to sign with Under Armour, they've raised the bar once again as far as a team being outfitted as a team. Gloves with team logos in the pam and multiple shoe options in Western colour way are part of the team's fabric. The Mustangs are outfitted as a team thus they look like a team. Most schools stop at the jersey and pants but not Western. You'll be hard pressed to find a Mustang on the field attempting to "protect their house" who is wearing a logo that isn't a U or an A. That's how it should be. It doesn't matter how stylish your jersey or pants look; if players are wearing different gloves and shoes it sends the message you aren't on board with your supplier. Even the hand warmers and helmet visors in London are Under Armour. The purple helmet added a year ago for the school's 100th year in athletics was a nice touch. It's amazing how much a second helmet can do to break up the monotony of a uniform. Equipment manager Mark Carmody makes many judicial choices based on substance over style. Don't expect to see Western's staple white pants on a grass field. Don't expect to see Western's legendary purple-and-purple combination unless it's a massive game. Now on their third generation of Under Armour uniforms, none look extraordinarily different than the others. Every three years, the Mustangs have added a wrinkle here or there to keep the integrity of their unique look while adding some new flavour. The collar, shoulders and rib cage are not just areas for excess fabric, but locales Under Armour has decided to routinely add ventilation and design to in order to keep the Mustangs jersey functional and fun. I'd love to see Western add a black alternative. Fellow Under Armour school Northwestern shares the same colour way and ever year their black uniform is among their most popular.

 

  No. 3 GUELPH GRYPHONS (Adidas)

Number of helmets: 6
Number of jerseys: 10

Stu Lang has brought more than new facilities and a new standard of excellence to the Gryphons program. His fun outlook on outfitting players has the Gryphs being dubbed "Oregon North". Guelph certainly is high on this list because of their strength in numbers. None of their singular jerseys stand out as breathtaking but they will keep things fresh as you never know what they will be wearing when. This is the first season they'll wear a different jersey in every single game. Their two new Adidas additions are the most modern looks in their stable. The all-black homecoming uniform is one that got the country talking. However, the yellow jersey and subsequent yellow helmet has elicited less positive discussion. The gold jersey has mixed reviews but the gold helmet is undeniably sharp, specifically with its decal commemorating the 50th anniversary of its founding colleges - Ontario Agricultural College, MacDonald Institute and Ontario Veterinary College - becoming the University of Guelph. Sentiment is a big part of Guelph's attire as their red throwback uniform has the name "redmen" on it. This pays tribute to the school's nickname before 1967 and the current group of boosters and donors who support the team. What Guelph is wearing on their head stands out as elite more so than anything they wear on their back. Internally, the matte black helmet is a favourite. They've taken smart chances, managing to pull off a white Gryphon decal with their red helmets and a checkerboard horizontal decal with their matte grey helmets. Whether it's a face mask, chin strap or full helmet, the Gryphon players always honour their female fans with some pink in the month of October. Just in their first year with Adidas, I suspect Guelph will rival Saskatchewan in the coming years for the jersey crown when the quality of their garments catches up with their already stellar quantity.

 No. 2 LAVAL ROUGE ET OR (Nike)

Number of helmets: 2
Number of jerseys: 3

Long the gold standard as far as uniforms are concerned, Laval still looks as good as they play. The first team to have a regular alternate jersey besides the standard home and away. The first program to have an alternate black helmet. You knew for a long time when the University of Miami got a Nike uniform, the same style would soon be worn in a Rouge et Or colour way at Laval. Their level of detail is even shown on the sidelines where every program member is decked out in Nike Laval gear. The detailing is what sets Laval apart. Three jerseys and two helmets aren't absurd numbers, but from the detailing on the numbers to the Laval name on the back of the pants, the Rouge et Or look like a first-class football operation. One detail that isn't overlooked is tradition. They don't waver from the home red and road white look. The black alternate jersey at times is worn at home and is the only jersey accompanied with the black helmet. Any other day you'll see the iconic golden dome. When you have a long-standing tradition, your uniform become less about choices and more about predictability of excellence. From a style and design perspective, Laval always looks as good as they play.

 No. 1 SASKATCHEWAN HUSKIES (Under Armour)

Number of helmets: 4
Number of jerseys: 6

Saskatchewan is pushing the envelope in terms of combinations and quality. The Huskies have four different helmet colours but even those are interchangeable as their strength is employing different face masks and decal combinations with those helmets. Beyond the helmets, U of S boasts four different face mask colours, 11 different helmet decals, three different game pants and six different game socks. Equipment manager Andrea Eccleston has countless options at her disposal and is setting the trend in CIS. The Huskies rarely wear the same things twice. Proud U of S supporter David Dubé plays a role in the uniform funding and works hand in hand with the four-person volunteer equipment staff on game-day choices. The Huskies have six different jerseys, all of which, as a standalone piece, would be the best jersey at most rival schools. On the field, the extra hands on deck shows! Their blacks for their night blackout game pops more than the fireworks that set the scene for the contest. Both of their throwback unis modeled after U of S rugby kits from the early 1900's have matching rugby-style striped socks that deserve to be worn more than just on homecoming. The best of the lot, though, are their camouflage jerseys which are both tastefully done and aesthetically pleasing. The camouflage uniforms are saved for their Support Our Troops game - something more schools should be doing as a way to honour past soldiers who attended their school and current soldiers from the area who protect their freedom. Instead of last names on the back of the uniforms, they read words like "integrity, service, country, honour and courage". Contributions from the game go to the Soldier On Fund, which provides financial aid to ill or injured members of the Canadian Forces. Proceeds from a pre-game tailgate BBQ as well as donations given by fans go to the Soldier on Fund. The Heather Ryan and L. David Dube Foundation match all donations. Leading up to this year's game, $75,000 had been raised. The style of camo on the uniforms is the arid camouflage worn by Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Looking good for a good cause? It doesn't get much better than that.

** VOTE: What is your favourite CIS football jersey from Donnovan's selections below **

 ** VOTE: What is your favourite CIS football jersey from Donnovan's selections below **

Follow Donnovan on Twitter: @donnovanbennett