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Tobacco Road is a term used in college sports, mainly basketball, for four rival universities in North Carolina that play in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The term refers to the area's history as a major tobacco producer. The Tobacco Road teams represent the following universities:
- North Carolina Tar Heels (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill)
- Duke Blue Devils (Duke University in Durham)
- NC State Wolfpack (North Carolina State University in Raleigh)
- Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem)
North Carolina, Duke, and NC State lie in the Research Triangle and are separated by no more than 25 miles (40 km). (Before moving to Winston-Salem in 1956, Wake Forest was also located within Wake County and the Triangle, to the northeast of Raleigh.) The schools are historical and present powerhouses among college sports, especially basketball. The universities' proximity and membership in the ACC, coupled with their reputation for academic prestige and as hubs for research and innovation, has created a natural rivalry among students, fans, and alumni.
These four universities are also known in the state as the "Big Four" and competed in the Dixie Classic men's basketball tournament from 1949 to 1961, in which the four schools won all 13 tournaments played. They also played in the Big Four Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, from 1971 to 1981. The Wake–Duke rivalry is the oldest basketball rivalry among the four schools in that it dates back to the 1905–06 season and was the first intercollegiate basketball game in North Carolina. The Wake-Duke rivalry is just ahead of the more well known UNC-Duke rivalry in terms of games played by two games. The rivalries between the four schools also account for six of the most frequently played men's basketball rivalries in the ACC. The four schools have a combined 13 men's national basketball championships (UNC has 7 (6 NCAA), Duke has 5, NC State has 2). The four schools also won 2 NIT titles (UNC won 1, and Wake won 1). In the men's tournament they have combined to have 10 runners-up (Duke has 6 and UNC has 4) and 39 Final Fours (UNC has 20, Duke has 16, NC State has 3, and Wake has 1). At least one Tobacco Road team has made the NCAA Tournament every year since 1974. Since the NCAA Tournament started in 1939, all four teams have missed the same tournament eleven times. The years in which none of the teams were in the tournament was 1940, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1958, 1971, & 1973. All four teams have made the same tournament 4 times (1991, 2003, 2004, 2005). Prior to the 2014 NCAA Tournament, at least one of the teams had made the Sweet 16 since 1979. Aside from the ACC Tournament, the four schools have only played each other in the postseason twice, never in the NCAA tournament. The only two times came in the NIT Tournament: Wake beat NC State in a semifinal game of the 2000 NIT Tournament and went on to win the tournament, and UNC beat Duke in a semifinal game of the 1971 NIT Tournament, also winning the tournament. The four schools have combined to win 71 men's conference tournaments with 21 SoCon tournaments and 50 ACC tournaments (UNC won 26, Duke won 24, NC State won 17, & Wake Forest won 5). While in the Southern Conference they won or shared 17 SoCon regular season titles between the 1922-23 and 1952–53 seasons. They have also dominated ACC regular season play, having won or shared 52 regular season titles between them, including all but nine since the 1953-54 season.
Women's Basketball The four schools have won one women's national championship (UNC). The four have also won 21 ACC women's tournaments (UNC won 9, Duke won 8, NC State won 4) and won or shared 19 regular season titles. At least of the schools have made all but 10 of the 46 combined CIAW, AIAW, and NCAA tournaments since 1969. The years in which none of the teams made the tournaments were 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1979.
Though the Tobacco Road rivalry predominantly relates to basketball, football between these programs is also competitive. As of the 2014 season, the four schools have combined to appear in 82 bowl games (Duke has 14, UNC has 33, NC State has 32, Wake has 13) and a 46–45–1 record in those games (Duke won 6, UNC won 14, NC State won 17, Wake won 9). They have also shared or won outright a combined 32 conference championships (20 ACC and 12 SoCon). As of the 2015 game, NC State is the only school out of the four to not appear in the ACC Championship Game since the ACC went to a divisional format in 2005. The format divided the four schools in which Wake Forest and NC State were put in the Atlantic Division, while Duke and UNC were put in the Coastal Division. Wake Forest and Duke are "permanent cross-division" rivals, meaning that they play every year regardless of division. The same can be said about UNC and NC State. The Wake–UNC game, as well as the Duke–NC State game, is played for two years then takes a three-year break before being played for another two years. In football, the four schools have produced 5 players and no coaches in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They have also produced 15 players and 6 coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame. The oldest of the football rivalries between the four schools belongs to the UNC-Wake rivalry, which dates back to October 10, 1888 and was the first intercollegiate football game in North Carolina.
In baseball, the four schools won a combined 14 ACC Baseball Tournaments (UNC won 6, NC State and Wake won 4, Duke won 0). In the College World Series, Wake Forest held the only national championship of any ACC school while a member of the ACC in 1955 until Virginia won it in 2015. Other schools have national championships, but all came before joining the ACC, or since leaving the ACC in the case of South Carolina. Wake was the runner-up in 1949, while UNC was the runner-up in 2006 and 2007.
In men's soccer, the four schools have won a combined four national titles (UNC has 2, Wake has 1, Duke has 1), three NCAA runners-up (Duke with 2, UNC with 1), 11 ACC Tournament titles, and won or shared 7 ACC regular season titles. Women's soccer has produced much more success among the four schools. On the national level, they have combined for 21 national championships (UNC won all 21), six NCAA runners-up (UNC with 3, Duke with 2, NC State with 1). Tobacco Road teams have won 22 ACC tournaments since its inception in 1987. The years not won by a Tobacco Road team are 1987, 2004, 2011, 2012, and 2013. They have also won or shared 20 ACC regular season titles since 1987. UNC's 21 national titles in women's soccer are the most among Division 1 schools.
Overall, the four schools have combined to win 69 NCAA Division I team national championship in both men's and women's sports.
- Alwyn Featherston (2006). Tobacco Road: Duke, Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest, and the History of the Most Intense Backyard Rivalries in Sports. Lyons Press. p. vii. ISBN 978-1-59228-915-8.
...in a renewal of four-way rivalry that has made Tobacco Road famous far beyond the bounds of North Carolina or the ACC.