A fair amount of research has gone into identifying the All American selection procedure and we still may not have it completely accurate, but we'll give it a spin and see how it goes.
The first All-American list we could discover was in the 1911 Spalding’s Athletic Almanac for the 1910 season. Athletes were selected based on their performances for that year by an officer of the AAU. This procedure would appear to last until 1921 when the NCAA begins its reign as the track and field governing body. (Up until then the IC4A Championships was effectively the national collegiate championships of the United States from 1876 to1920)
From 1921 to 1924 there is no All-American honor bestowed on athletes by the NCAA. In 1925, a Collegiate Honor Roll award is started recognizing those athletes with the best performance for the year. Times and marks were submitted by coaches and the NCAA T&F Rules Committee would select this Honor Roll team. This Honor Roll selection process would last until 1962.
In 1941 an All-American College Team was created along side the Honor Roll Team (selection was by the same rules committee). This All-American Team selection would last until 1974 and would be a tad more selective as it recognized fewer athletes than the Honor Roll selections. Somewhat of an oddity is that during this time period there would be years when both an Honor Roll and an All-American Team were selected and some years one or the other team was selected. An explanation could not be found for this.
1975 appears to be the start of the practice of awarding All-American status to athletes based on their placing at the National meet. From 1975 to 1981, the top 6 places would earn All-American status (or the top 6 American athletes factoring in Americans being 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 and as such, the top 12 places were awarded All-Am status. If you look at the results from those years, you'll see how bizarre it was. (EDITORIAL 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)
From 1985 to 2010 scoring and All-American status was expanded to the top 8 places (or top 8 American athletes).
In 2011, a 1st Team (pl. 1-8), 2nd Team (pl. 9-16), and Honorable Mention Team (pl. 17-24) All American status was introduced and that's where we're at today.
If you run across any errors in this narrative, please drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Spalding's Official Athletic Almanac (1902 - 1922)
- Spalding's NCAA T&F Rules • T&F Guide (1922 - 1941)
- Official NCAA T&F Guide (1944 - 1979)