Big Ten and Pac-12 to partner, play

Huge news today as the Big Ten and Pac-12 have decided to take their longstanding Rose Bowl partnership to the next level.

The two leagues will begin playing each other and sharing some TV coverage in what amounts to as close to a merger between the conferences as we might ever see.

The significance for football, and it is big, is this: Starting in 2017, the Pac-12 and Big Ten plan to have a full 12-game schedule between the leagues, meaning each Big Ten team would have one Pac-12 team on its schedule every year.

"Rather than go down the road of just trying to add members, we thought this was a way to keep who we were and an increase value for everybody," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski. "It doesn't mean you can't expand one day. It seems to us this is an intelligent way to get stronger and do so with zero collateral damage."

That will have enormous impact, of course, on scheduling practices, strength-of-schedule rankings and quite possibly access to the BCS national title game. The Big Ten had previously announced its intentions to go to a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2017; if it were to stick with that plan and add a Pac-12 opponent to every team's schedule, then each Big Ten school would have only two open dates on its regular-season slate. That could have a major effect on longstanding rivalries such as Purdue-Notre Dame, Iowa-Iowa State and even Michigan-Notre Dame, as many programs would not want to load up that many difficult games each year when they could instead schedule more winnable home dates.

But Delany told USA Today that the Big Ten likely will rethink its decision to go to nine conference games. The Pac-12 plans to keep its nine-game conference schedule.

The two leagues could stage big events at places like the Rose Bowl, Soldier Field, Staples Center and Ford Field. They will also cross-promote each other on their league-run cable networks; the Pac-12 is set to launch its own network this spring.

Some big questions remain, such as whether this arrangement could help entice Notre Dame to join the Big Ten. Will the tougher schedules make it harder for either league to reach the BCS title game? Does this make it more or less likely that the Pac-12 and Big Ten would support an expansion of the BCS system to something like the plus-one model? Or will they become even more entrenched to simply owning the Rose Bowl?

Officials from both conferences will speak about the arrangement later this afternoon, and we'll have more coverage and reaction. Stay tuned.