A HISTORICAL REVIEW OF THE TRACK & FIELD ALL-AMERICAN HONOR
Like football and basketball, the All-American Track & Field honor grew from ‘selected’ mythical teams. With recently acquired research from Cindy Lea Arbelbide, we’re now able to present a fairly complete picture of the All American selection process from its beginning days to now.
The first All-American list we could discover was in the 1911 Spalding’s Athletic Almanac for the 1910 season. Three different teams were selected: an Athletic Team (open to any age); an All College Team; and a Scholastic Team (high school). Athletes were selected based on their performances for that year by an officer of the AAU. These AAU honors would continue until the mid-70s (as far as we can tell).
In 1921, the NCAA begins its reign as the Collegiate Track and Field governing body, yet from 1921 to 1924 there would be no NCAA All-American award bestowed to athletes. (Prior to 1921, the IC4A Championships were considered the national collegiate championships of the United States. The IC4A meet started in 1876 and continues to this day. To our knowledge, the IC4A did not award All American certificates).
In 1925, the NCAA begins a Collegiate Honor Roll award recognizing athletes for their best performances for the year. Times and marks were submitted by coaches to the NCAA T&F Rules Committee and this committee would select the Honor Roll team. Honor Roll selections would discontinue after 1962.
Top marks could include athletes from junior colleges, colleges, and universities, and NCAA school membership wasn’t a requirement. To muddy the waters during this time, it would appear that All-American selections would occur by other groups besides the AAU or NCAA. These selections would be by sports writers who would choose their own All-American group separate from the NCAA or AAU lists.
These ‘extra’ lists were not sought out in our discussion here and are not counted in the USC numbers.
In 1941, an All-American College Team was created (selection was by the same NCAA rules committee). Initially suggested to replace the Honor Roll Team, there would be years when both an Honor Roll and an All-American Team were selected. The All-American Team would consist of three athletes in each event with the best mark or series of performances within a season and could include athletes from junior colleges, IC4A, NAIA, as well as NCAA schools.
So for this time period (1941-74), we see an All-American selection process that chose the top three finishers in the NCAA meet as a starting point, but exceptions were made when appropriate. From 1941-1964, Team selections would consist of three athletes per event (though on occasion there would be a 4th person in some events) and from 1966-1974, a minimum of four athletes per event were chosen with a 5th person sometimes added to an event. The Rules Committee reserved the right to add outstanding talent that did not participate in the NCAA Championships.
We should also note here that we did not attempt to account for any All-American honors ‘awarded’ by individual schools to recognize their own athletes as point-scorers in the NCAA Meet who were not recognized as All-American by the NCAA Selection Committee. (We have only used AAU & NCAA lists for USC’s All-Americans)
By 1967, structural changes in T&F would expand the All-American honors as Divisions are created. The University and College Divisions created in 1967 would be renamed in 1974 as Division I, Division II with Division III being added later.
1975 & 1976 would appear to be the transition years when the ‘selection’ process would move to a ‘head-to-head’ point-scorer process. From 1975 to 1981, the top 6 places would be crowned All-Americans (including the top 6 American athletes that were displaced by foreign athletes competing in American schools).
1982, 83, and 84 introduced a scoring format that was quite generous as the top 12 places scored in the National meet. For these three years, the top 12 athletes came to be recognized by the USTFCCCA as All-Americans.
If you look at the results from those years, you'll see how different this scoring was. (OUR GUESS: 1982 was the first year the women came under the guise of the NCAA and the championship meet being combined with the men for one big meet, hence this scoring format.) (Quick overview re: women's athletics)
Prior to 1982, women's athletics were governed by the DGWS (Division of Girl’s & Women’s Sports 1969-72) and the AIAW (Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women 1973-81) and those All Americans are included in USC’s lists.
From 1985 to 2010 scoring reverted back to ‘normal’ and All-American status was adjusted to be the top 8 places (or up to the top 8 displaced American athletes).
In 2011, All American status was changed to a 1st Team (places 1-8), 2nd Team (places 9-16), and Honorable Mention Team (places 17-24) and that is where we're at today.
Presently, USC's T&F All American number (Indoor and Outdoor) is 1690. If you run across any errors in this narrative, please drop us an email:
- Spalding's Official Athletic Almanac (1902 - 1968)
- Spalding's NCAA T&F Rules • T&F Guide (1922 - 1941)
- Official NCAA T&F Guide (1944 - 1979)