Due to poorly-timed renovations to The Bahamas' Thomas Robinson Stadium, the Bahamas Bowl has a change of scenery this year. The bowl trades in its island setting for the Queen City, moving to Jerry Richardson Stadium this year.
Could a different location mean a conference affiliation change this year? The Bahamas Bowl is an ESPN-owned bowl, and ESPN is notorious for the fluidity of its bowl tie-ins. ESPN shuffles their bowl tie-ins to create the best matchups for TV. The Bahamas Bowl was immune to this due to passports since it is an international game. As a result, the Bahamas Bowl has always been a Conference USA-MAC matchup.
This year, passports are not an issue, and ESPN could hypothetically change a conference affiliation to create a more beneficial matchup regionally. Conference USA has a team in the southeast that should become bowl-eligible in Western Kentucky, whose campus is roughly a seven-hour drive away from Charlotte.
Similarly, the MAC also lacks teams close to Charlotte. Miami (OH) is the closest school, approximately the same distance from Charlotte as Western Kentucky. The next nearest school is Ball State, which is roughly a nine-hour drive away.
Consequently, the Bahamas Bowl could decide to swap its MAC tie-in for this year only. The Sun Belt has a wealth of teams nearing bowl eligibility close to Charlotte. The entire Sun Belt East, except for transitioning James Madison, is in bowl contention. Every school in the division is around a five-hour drive or less from Charlotte. Additionally, should Western Kentucky play in the Bahamas Bowl, ESPN could reignite their rivalry with Marshall, dubbed "The Moonshine Throwdown" and boost TV viewership and attendance.
A Bahamas Bowl switch could benefit the MAC as it may vacate an ESPN-owned bowl with a Power Five opponent for their champion to play in. Toledo still only has a narrow, last-second loss to Illinois as their only blemish. A 12-1 Toledo squad or an 11-2 Miami (OH) squad with a win over Cincinnati are more than worthy candidates for a Power Five bowl opponent, and a Bahamas Bowl switch could facilitate that.
In the end, the Bahamas Bowl changing one of its conference affiliations along with its location for this year could be a win-win situation for the bowl and the MAC. The bowl gets an attendance boost, while the MAC could earn an opportunity at a signature win against a Power Five team in a bowl game.