“Et tu, Brute?” The Triumvirate and the Rise of the Super Conference

This is Part 3 in a series on conference realignment. For Part 1 Click Here and for Part 2 Click Here.

A triumvirate is political structure where three individuals, known as triumvirs, hold the controlling power. Likely the most famous triumvirate in history was the alliance of Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus of the Roman Republic from 59-53 BC. The alliance made by the three was not one that was made for the betterment of Rome, but for selfish gain. The triumvirs only had power and conquest on their minds. They waged wars with trust and occasional aid towards one another and even affirmed their unity in 56 BC as they divided Rome amongst them. In 53, Crassus would fall at the Battle of Carrhae and the triumvirate would die with him as Caesar and Pompeius would now be at odds over who should have the power of Rome. It is written that, “Caesar’s power now inspired the envy of Pompey, while Pompey’s eminence was offensive to Caesar; Pompey could not brook an equal or Caesar a superior.” Selfish hearts shape selfish minds which breed selfish ideas that enact selfish actions. The two would war against one another but it wouldn’t be Caesar that would kill Pompey, an assassin would thrust a sword into him. Caesar’s demise of course would be even more cruel. If you are familiar with Shakespeare’s “Tragedy of Julius Caesar” you likely still hold the infamous line of, “Et tu, Brute?” in your mind. These are the last word’s spoken by Caesar in the play as he sees his trusted friend, Marcus Brutus as one of his own assassins. “And you, Brutus?” can be heard in the mind’s eye with such betrayal and brokenness as Caesar’s friend plunges a knife into Caesar himself.

As we continue to investigate the inevitable, regarding the shifting landscape of college athletics, we have already heard the words spoken over and again, “Et tu, Brute?” but as “Et tu, Texas?”, “Et tu, UCLA?” These major market teams that stood as cornerstones of their respective conferences betraying all of those who have stood by them, all for their own gain. The future of Division I conferences are being built in reverse of Caesar’s story though. In this version we have the betrayal first that will lead to the rise of a triumvirate as three conferences will stand paramount to all others and rule the land. There are dreams out there, real ones, plausible ones, beautiful ones that would make college sports, specifically college football, a site to behold instead of a scene to bemoan such as the English Soccer League system. But again, selfish hearts shape selfish minds which breed selfish ideas that enact selfish actions, and that’s true for college sports and institutions bent towards money and power. Since there has already been much discussion on what has led to this process in the first two parts of this series, it is now time to unveil the triumvirs and the damage they are going to lay to the rest of the college conferences in their rise to power. Here stand the triumvirs: The Big Ten, the SEC, and the Big 12.

The Big 10’s Complete Roster:

Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, UCLA, USC, Boise State, Pitt, Oregon, Washington (20)

Why These Additions:

The additions of ULCA and USC already give the Big 10 sixteen teams. To make the projected 20 team super-conference minimum they only need to “recruit” an additional 4 schools. The first piece of the puzzle will likely come from the Mountain West. Boise State has been jockeying for position since the late 90’s, working their way from the kids table to a seat with the adults. After a 25 year tenure with the Big Sky, the Bronco’s jumped to the Big West and got itself a couple of bowl wins. This set the stage for a premier move to the Big East, but thankfully for them, they saw the writing on the wall and pulled out of the deal just before the Big East’s death. In theory, joining the Big East would’ve let Boise State elevate itself to a much more level playing field with the other football powers. Instead they went to the WAC and used their time there to the fullest going perfect in 2 seasons ended both with knockouts of Big 12 schools in the Fiesta Bowl including the iconic overtime win against Oklahoma. The success of the Boise State hasn’t slowed much since their move to the Mountain West in 2011 as its picked up another 5 bowl wins against the likes of Arizona State, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii.

Pitt may be the last addition to the Big 10. It’s been loyal to the ACC, but as you’ll find out, the ACC is going to be gutted. While their resume is mediocre in terms of bowl wins, they have flirted with top 25 finishes for almost a decade. They also brand well for the Big 10. Location, rivalry potential, football style, and upwards growth. The hand that the Big 10 extends will be one that says, “Help me, help you.” Pitt will fill a need, it won’t be a tough reach, it will be financially beneficial for Pitt, and the Big 10 won’t look like a poacher because the ACC will already have fallen apart. The move will be seamless and the football will be good. They will quickly surpass Indiana, Northwestern, Rutgers and Maryland in the standings and start to develop a culture of winning as a member of one of the triumvirs.

Stacked between the additions of Boise State and Pitt will be two more Pac 12 teams: Oregon and Washington. Nike money is a real thing and Oregon still has football brand recognition even beyond the swoosh. Washington, on the other hand, is the outlier. They have the academic connection but not the football panache. What they do have is market. With already having the two most influential California schools, the addition of both Oregon and Washington gives the Big 10 the entire West Coast. While everyone is seemingly waiting on Notre Dame, they will be one of the few institutions to not budge. Even after they see the ACC crumble, their independence status will remain as it’s become almost as much of their identity as their Catholic roots. It is a sign of defiance to the machine and they will pride themselves on not having been swayed by the money and fame that would come with joining the Big 10. The Big 10 already knows this, but they hold so many cards already they aren’t in a hurry. The Big 10 may actually be the last super conference to hit 20 but their patience will pay off.

The SEC’s Complete Roster:

Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida State, Miami, NC State, Georgia Tech (20)

Why These Additions:

The Big 12 felt the “Et tu, Brute” early on as Texas and Oklahoma almost took the life out of the conference when they announced their move to the SEC. Like the Big 10, this put the SEC at 16 schools. The SEC will have the easiest path to 20 though because they are going to rip four teams out of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Now the Big 12 is going to do the same thing and the the Big 12 will likely be the destroyers while the SEC plays cleanup. The who is not that important since the Big 12 and the SEC are after different schools for different reasons, but one will have to initiate the change. Regardless, the SEC’s first priority is controlling the state of Florida. The ACC holds the keys to both Florida State and Miami. The big three of Florida universities is a must have for the SEC. While the Big 12 stole the little sister in UCF, the SEC only wants the big boys. They will do the same for Georgia by adding Tech then give South Carolina a boarder war rivalry with NC State. While Tech and NC State aren’t football powers, the SEC doesn’t need more parity at the top, they need reasons for people to watch the middle and bottom teams. Creating rivalries and dominating entire states does that. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The Big 12’s Complete Roster:

Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, Houston, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Louisville (20)

Why These Additions:

The Big 12 will be first. The only thing that keeps them from being second place to 20 teams is if the SEC tiger claws the ACC to death out of nowhere. With already taking Oklahoma and Texas, the SEC will sit pat for a bit and watch the pieces move. The Big 12 though hasn’t been shy with their mission: survive. To do this they know they have to establish themselves before anyone else. As described in Part 1 of this series, the Big 12 has a different approach to conference realignment. The SEC and the Big 10 care about football and TV viewership. The Big 12 can’t play in the same sandbox trying to attract those same markets so their are creating a different approach that is basketball first. They certainly have the most work to do with only having 12 teams thus needing 8 to move up to the super conference number of 20, but they want bodies and they can get them. With the Pac 12 in flux, i.e. falling apart, there will be a great movement among institutions who are afraid they won’t be able to stand on their own. Why there were dreams of the Pac 12 and the Big 12 joining forces, the world may never know, but no conference is going to marry another. This guarantees only survival of the fittest. Arizona and Arizona State want to be together, and aren’t afraid to do what UCLA and USC just did and bail out as a dynamic duo. This will lead to another pair in Utah and Colorado who will site geography, the shifting landscape, and other constituent friendly terms and move into the Big 12 family. The remaining four additions will be the death of the ACC. The Atlantic Coast won’t want to marry anyone either so they will divorce themselves. Four will go to the Big 12 and four to the SEC and the rest will have to figure it out. Louisville, Duke, and North Carolina have the perfect mix of basketball prowess and football potential, especially in the less cutthroat football conference of the Big 12. They will of course create the greatest basketball conference the world has ever seen. Clemson is the odd duck. They had their seasons of glory on the gridiron and it’s hard to tell if that will ever come back. Their best hope will be to join the Big 12 and avoid the SEC regular season gauntlet and they know that.

So what’s left after the apocalypse? There will be many who have no place to call home that will have to find their own way. The non-super conferences will piecemeal together to try and establish something that will fit their institutional goals and athletic dreams but it will be on the outside looking in. While the triumvirate of super conferences is on the brink of inevitable it is important to note that every iteration of this type of power has failed throughout history. How long this will last is a question for another day, but all it will take is another act of betrayal from someone you’d never expect.


  • Kyle Spencer

    Not a jack-of-all trades just a master of none. Former Assistant Coach for 2x Middle School Soccer Championship team. Coached a few other things along the journey, but focusing on leading my family well and mentoring students.

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