A local football official is about to make history.
Dave Foxcroft is one of three Canadian Football League officials slated to work National Football League pre-season games as part of an interleague development program. Until now, a Canadian has never officiated in the NFL.
“It’s a big deal,” said Glen Johnson, senior vice-president of football for the CFL. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had this kind of relationship where we’re putting officials from our programs on each other’s fields, so that in itself is a pretty critical thing.”
Foxcroft, 48, will make his NFL debut Saturday, when the San Francisco 49ers visit the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. The Hamilton native is expected to be stationed along the sideline in the defensive backfield, where he’ll monitor the sideline, watch wide receivers and count defensive players, among other tasks.
Foxcroft, now a CFL referee, has had plenty of experience as a deep sideline official in his career.
Johnson said Foxcroft and the other officials — Vancouver’s Dave Hawkshaw and Edmonton’s Justin McInnes — were selected for the program for several reasons: they rated highly in their positions last year, they are at the midstage of their CFL careers and they have all worked a Grey Cup (or, in Foxcroft’s case, three).
On top of that, they come from a range of positions (Hawkshaw is a line judge, while McInnes is a head linesman), which, according to Johnson, means they’re “the right kind of guys” to “bring back best practices and share them with the rest of the group.”
Announced in April, the program aims to improve officiating in both leagues through additional training and on-field experience. Between mini camps, training camps and pre-season games, Johnson estimates the three Canadians will see several hundred more snaps than usual this season.
The same goes for the four NFL officials who worked on CFL crews in June and July.
For Johnson, the program is a learning opportunity that allows both leagues to identify best practices. In the future, it could also become a pathway to the NFL — a factor he hopes will encourage more people to become officials in Canada.
“The whole professional officiating ecosystem becomes better as a result of this,” he added.
That’s a good thing — for everyone involved.
According to a recent story by The Spectator’s Drew Edwards, the CFL has been the subject of intense criticism over its officiating from players, coaches and fans over the past several seasons. Johnson has overseen a number of initiatives since being named the head of CFL officiating in 2013, including the expanded use of video review, the addition of a second eye-in-the-sky replay official and improved on-field communication.
He’s also been candid about the challenges the league is up against.
Saturday marks the end of the program for this year, although Foxcroft — son of local basketball refereeing legend, Ron Foxcroft, and president and COO of Fox 40 International — will return to the U.S. at the end of the CFL season to shadow an NFL crew. He’s been travelling back and forth to training camp in Denver since late last month.