Blue building foundation for '06 Grey Cup

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

It didn't get any play in the unveiling of the team's financial statement the other day.

Yet it's as critical to the long-term success of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as any other line in the CFL club's budget.

It should make multi-year, six-figure contracts like the one signed yesterday by running back Charles Roberts more common down the road.

It's the Bombers stabilization fund. Some refer to it as a rainy-day fund.

Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer likes to call it the war chest.

Currently, it contains a balance of around $1 million -- not bad when you consider where this franchise was just five years ago, but still just a fraction of what the Bombers would like it to be.

Without the fund, this team is constantly treading water, inhaling mouthfuls of the stuff every time it has a down year at the box office.

With it, the community-owned franchise can compete with the big fish in the CFL pond -- the Montreal Alouettes, Toronto Argonauts, B.C. Lions and Edmonton Eskimos.

At least, that's the idea.

"It's going to be extremely important," Bauer was saying yesterday. "All signs point to escalating costs. All you have to do is look at the free agent market this winter."

In case you hadn't noticed, CFL teams have been throwing loonies at everything that moves. Even cornerbacks and backup quarterbacks are worth six-figure contracts these days.

If a privately owned team (hello, Calgary) needs a starting quarterback to give it instant credibility, it only has to raid the community-owned team (sorry, Saskatchewan) which can't afford to pay him as much.

The Bombers appear to be adopting the philosophy, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Or at least, spend like 'em.

ONLY FOR EMERGENCIES

Roughly one-third of the team's stabilization fund (around $300,000) is highly restricted. It's only there for emergencies.

The rest, though, could be used for anything from attracting a Rolling Stones concert to signing a marquee player.

There's one hitch, though.

"It won't be accessible until we get on the black side of the ledger," Bauer said.

So when the team finally erases the $217,788 debt still on its books, it can begin dipping into the fund.

Let's see ... if the Bombers have even a decent 2005, they should be able to stand up and declare themselves debt-free sometime early next year -- just in time to begin hyping Grey Cup '06.

You all remember where Grey Cup '06 will be played, don't you?

And wouldn't it be something to have the host team actually playing in the game? Would sure guarantee we wouldn't have another '98 debacle, when barely 34,000 fans bought tickets for the big game, the smallest Cup crowd in the last 29 years.

So if, next February, coach Jim Daley and GM Brendan Taman figure they're an all-star or two away from being a legitimate Cup contender, maybe they'll ask for a little extra cash from the vault to sign a marquee free agent or two -- and the salary cap be damned.

Yes, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves, here. Who knows, the CFL might actually have an enforceable cap by then -- and pigs will fly.

You get the picture, though.

The Eskimos earlier this year announced their stabilization fund had reached $7.3 million. The last time they missed the playoffs -- 34 years ago.

"You don't see Edmonton lose too many free agents," Bauer said. "They don't usually start the war, but they usually win it."

You get the impression, though, that the Bombers are quietly gearing up for a fight.

One that could start as early as 2006.


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