The NCAA held its first men's National Collegiate Soccer Championship in 1959, with eight teams selected for the tournament. Before 1959, national champions were selected by a committee of the Intercollegiate Soccer Football Association (ISFA) based on season records and competition. In addition, the College Soccer Bowl tournament was held from 1950–1952 (following the 1949–1951 seasons) for the purpose of deciding a national champion on the field. The Soccer Bowl was a one-site competition involving four teams selected by college soccer administrators. However, the ISFA committee continued to select the national champion in those three years (in 1950 selecting as champion a team that did not participate in the second Soccer Bowl).
College soccer started in Northeast colleges and at private schools in the late 19th century, while club soccer was mostly played in the Midwest and the South. In the West, Stanford started up a soccer program in 1911, University of San Francisco in 1932, and UCLA in 1937, playing largely amateur teams. In 1945, at the end of the world war, the ISFA had only 22 member college teams. This grew to over 50 by 1947.
The ISFA was founded in 1926 and offered an annual Outstanding Soccer Team award, the mythical national soccer championship, through 1935 and from 1946 through 1958. From 1905 through 1925, the Intercollegiate Soccer Football League (an Ivy League forerunner) determined an annual champion.
College champions were determined by various methods over the years as listed below. They are all considered unofficial.
|1911||Haverford (spring)||1927||Princeton||1943||no selection|
|1912||Yale (spring)||1928||Yale||1944||no selection|
|1913||Harvard (spring)||1929||Penn State||1945||no selection|
|1914||Harvard (spring), Penn (1st fall-only schedule)||1930||Harvard, Pennsylvania, Yale||1946||Springfield|
|1917||Haverford||1933||Penn, Penn State||1949||San Francisco, Penn State (a)|
|1918||no competition||1934||Cornell||1950||West Chester (b)|
|1920||Penn||1936||Penn State, Princeton, Syracuse, West Chester||1952||Franklin & Marshall|
|1921||Princeton||1937||Penn State, Princeton, Springfield||1953||Temple|
|1922||Princeton||1938||Penn State||1954||Penn State|
|1923||Penn||1939||Penn State, Princeton||1955||Brockport, Penn State|
|1924||Penn||1940||Penn State, Princeton||1956||Trinity|
|1925||Princeton||1941||no selection||1957||City College of New York, Springfield|
|1926||Harvard, Princeton, Penn State||1942||no selection||1958||Drexel|
|Penn State||11||1926, 1929, 1933, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1949, 1954, 1955|
|Penn||10||1914, 1916, 1919, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933|
|Princeton||9||1921, 1922, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1936, 1937, 1939, 1940|
|Haverford||7||1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1911, 1915, 1917|
|Yale||5||1908, 1912, 1928, 1930, 1935|
|Harvard||4||1913, 1914, 1926, 1930|
|Springfield||4||1937, 1946, 1947, 1957|
|West Chester||2||1936, 1950|
|Franklin & Marshall||1||1952|
|City College of New York||1||1957|