Later this month, the College Sports Information Directors of America will introduce the first Academic All-America teams of the year, continuing the only program of its kind that has recognized student-athlete academic achievement for more than half a century.

What makes 2011-12 a benchmark year for the program, though, is that for the first time, CoSIDA will announce Academic All-America teams in all three NCAA divisions.

For years the program has been separated into "university" and "college" divisions to distinguish Division I honorees from the rest. Now, thanks to support from NCAA corporate partner Capital One and contributions from the Divisions II and III identity campaigns, the Capital One Academic All-America program will recognize 48 national teams annually in 12 sports - one team each for Divisions I, II and III, and a college division squad that combines NAIA institutions, two-year colleges and Canadian schools.

2011-12 Release Dates
Sport Div. III Div. II Div. I
Men’s and women’s soccer Nov. 29 Nov. 30 Dec. 1
Football Dec. 6 Dec. 7 Dec. 8
Women’s volleyball Dec. 13 Dec. 14 Dec. 15
Men’s and women’s basketball Feb. 21 Feb. 22 Feb. 23
Softball May 22 May 23 May 24
Baseball May 30 May 31 June 1
Men’s and women’s at large June 5 June 6 June 7
Men’s and women’s track/XC June 19 June 20 June 21

This year's program kicks off when CoSIDA and Capital One announce Academic All-America Teams in men's and women's soccer on Nov. 29 (Division III), Nov. 30 (Division II) and Dec. 1 (Division I).

"We really wanted to break up the college division, because it included so many student-athletes and was so difficult to achieve distinction," said CoSIDA Executive Director John Humenik. "Fortunately for us, Capital One came on board, and Mike Racy and Dan Dutcher (NCAA vice presidents for Division II and Division III, respectively) stepped forward last summer as part of their branding campaigns and allocated funds for us to have separate division designations."

The university and college distinctions reflected the same names the NCAA used to distinguish competitive levels, but the labels lingered long after the NCAA went to its divisional structure in 1973. It became problematic for the Academic All-America program, particularly in the college division since that bucket was so full of potential nominees. SIDs with student-athletes carrying 3.6 or 3.7 grade-point averages became reluctant to nominate them because they knew the competition was so stout just because of the volume.

Humenik said the updated program expands CoSIDA's grass-roots reach. "We'll have 384 All-District teams per year and now 48 national teams instead of 24. That's close to 4,000 student-athletes honored annually, from All-District to first-, second- and third-team Academic All-America."

Capital One takes on sponsorship of a program that has honored more than 20,000 student-athletes since its inception in 1952. It encompasses all sports in which the NCAA conducts championships. Separate teams are selected in football, women's volleyball, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's basketball, baseball, softball, and men's and women's track and cross country.

Student-athletes in other sports such as swimming and diving, tennis, golf, field hockey and ice hockey are eligible for the men's and women's at-large programs. The Academic All-District teams (in eight geographic districts) are voted on by the CoSIDA membership at large, with first-team selections advancing to the national Capital One Academic All-America ballot. At that point, first-, second- and third-team performers are chosen by the Academic All-America Committee members and CoSIDA board of directors.

In all, about 1,950 athletes earn all-district honors (in eight districts), 820 earn All-America honors and 288 are first-team Academic All-America selections.

Capital One also will sponsor the Academic All-America Hall of Fame, which was established in 1988 to honor the Academic All-America selections that have gone on to outstanding achievements in their chosen careers.

"The Academic All-America program is one of the most reputable and recognized student-athlete awards in intercollegiate athletics" said Capital One Chief Marketing Officer Bill McDonald. "As a national supporter of student-athletes and their quest for excellence on the field and in the classroom, Capital One is proud to help shine a spotlight on these individuals and their outstanding achievements. We look forward to working with CoSIDA to grow awareness around this program even more in the future."

Temple associate athletics director Larry Dougherty, who served as president of CoSIDA last year and has been a member of the organization's Academic All-America committee for 15 years, said the new-and-improved program fits CoSIDA's mission to recognize and promote student-athlete achievement in completion and in the classroom.

"That's the main thing we do," he said. "There's no better way to do that than through the Academic All-America program. At the same time, earning first-team Academic All-America distinction is hard to achieve. We're not watering anything down by expanding the program. We're simply able now to honor more deserving athletes and do so in their own divisions. It certainly has grown from just being a football academic award in the 1950s."

"We're advocates for college athletics and the student-athletes who participate," Humenik said. "And while the few high-profile student-athletes who run into academic trouble tend to grab the headlines, those of us who work in this enterprise know that 99 percent of student-athletes do things the right way. This program is another way to demonstrate to the membership and the public that there literally are thousands and thousands of student-athletes who are doing it right."