- This article addresses the New England conference of colleges. For the Western New York agglomeration, see Western New York Little Three Conference.
The Little Three is a term both for the historic athletic association of, and longstanding relationship in intercollegiate sports it spawned between, three schools of today's New England Small College Athletic Conference: Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
All are liberal arts colleges in New England, today regarded as among the elite of the Little Ivies. They first joined together as the Triangular League athletic conference in 1899, which lasted only three years before breaking up over an argument concerning the eligibility of college baseball players who received pay during summer league play. In 1910 they formed what what is believed to be "America’s oldest, continuous intercollegiate athletic conference without a membership change," which earned the moniker "The Triumvirate".
The exact origin of the term "Little Three" is lost to history, but is clearly a play on the term the Big Three, coined in the 1880s to describe the three big universities, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, which dominated football in the Ivy League. The earliest known reference appeared in John Hallahan’s Football in New England Colleges in 1923: "Williams College again won the championship of the Little Three, which includes Wesleyan and Amherst . . ."
Little Three championships are contested in 24 sports throughout the academic year.
- The Little Three: Williams • Amherst • Wesleyan, posted at williams.edu
- One version of the facts: my life in ... - Henry Edmison Duckworth - Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2011-12-19.
- Athletics at Williams College