Escape clause

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

Lyle Bauer always gets fired up on the eve of a new football season -- he's a former player, after all -- and this year is no exception.

But one thing is different for the man who occupies the big chair in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers bunker: he may not be around by the end of 2007.

The Bomber president/CEO going on eight years, Bauer and his wife, Heidi, are in the process of selling their home north of the city.

Normally that's not a move that would raise eyebrows. But given the ongoing negotiations between the community-owned team's board and potential private owner David Asper, this particular real estate transaction begs a question.

Is Bauer leaving the province and the Bombers?

"Not today," he told Sun Media yesterday. "We're not doing this because of that. But the timing might work out very interesting."

Now there's a loaded statement if I've ever heard one.

Asper and the Bomber board have been in negotiations since May 1, trying to hammer out an agreement on a new stadium proposal. Asper's initial plan called for him to contribute $40 million of the $120-million cost in exchange for ownership of the team.

The two sides hoped to have an agreement by now, and are no doubt hot and heavy into the sticky part (read: team ownership) of the talks.

And while Asper has publicly said he'd love to have Bauer continue to run the show if he takes over, Bauer obviously isn't taking any chances.

"I've always been one, and I've promised my family, that I will not leave things hanging," he said. "We will be the dictators of our future. That's the way it needs to be.

"The management group and the board have driven (the stadium issue) to the point where it is. Hopefully it's all realized, and then we'll see. We've gotten this far, and if it stops at that point, then that's success. And if it continued, then that would be great, too."

It should be pointed out Bauer didn't put his house up for sale. Somebody approached him.

But the possession date is very much up in the air. In fact, it's got more hang time than a Khari Jones-to-Milt Stegall touchdown bomb.

Bauer's contract runs through the 2008 season. However, it contains an out-clause should the team fall into private hands.

The man says he still loves his job, calling it one of the best gigs in the world.

But the fact he's selling his home and isn't committing to staying in the province has set off an alarm bell or two on Maroons Road.

"It's a concern to us, no question," board chair Ken Hildahl said. "We've gotta keep him. Lyle is the backbone of the team right now. Whether it be on the financial side, where we've gained tremendous strength, or on the football operations side, where we've become a lot more competitive.

"He's Mr. Football in Winnipeg."

Since Bauer's arrival in 2000, the Bombers have erased a $5.5 million debt that threatened to wipe out the franchise.

Aside from a public clash with Asper two years ago, when Asper, then a board member, confronted players and coaches on the field after a loss, Bauer's tenure in the boardroom has been mostly lollipops and roses.

In recent years, he's repeatedly said the team's long-term future hinges on a new facility.

Now it appears his own future will hinge on how that plan moves ahead.

This past winter, Bauer and his wife bought a house in St. George, Utah, Heidi's home state. They still own one in Calgary, too, where a couple of their kids live.

Interestingly, there's no talk of shopping for a new home here.

"It makes for no baggage for decisions that have to be made," he said. "I'm not going to close the doors on anything. Regardless of where it might be."


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