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Tobacco Road refers to an historic tobacco-producing area of central North Carolina and is often used when referring to sports (particularly basketball) played among rival Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) universities which are located close to each other in North Carolina. The phrase originated as the title of a novel set in Georgia, but it migrated to North Carolina because of the state's primacy in tobacco production. Three of the schools (Duke, UNC, and North Carolina State) are part of Research Triangle and are separated by no more than 25 miles (40 km), and Wake Forest lies about 100 miles (160 km) west of the other three. It was formerly much closer to the other three, having originally been located in the town of Wake Forest, North Carolina, until 1956. All four are no more than 6 miles (9.7 km) from Interstate 40; the road has been called "Tobacco Road" in national sports media. (However, until the late 1980s—after tobacco had started to decline in North Carolina due to US federal anti-tobacco actions—I-40 did not reach Durham, Chapel Hill, or Raleigh. Rather, "Tobacco Road" would have been US Highway 70.) The proximity of these schools to one another and the membership of each school in the Atlantic Coast Conference have created a natural rivalry among students, fans, and alumni. North Carolina State University's "Red and White Song" mentions each of the four universities in its lyrics.
The usual universities referred to by the moniker "Tobacco Road" are the following:
- Duke University (Blue Devils), located in Durham
- North Carolina State University (Wolfpack), located in Raleigh
- University of North Carolina (Tar Heels), located in Chapel Hill
- Wake Forest University (Demon Deacons), located in Winston-Salem
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 12 men's national basketball championships (UNC has 5, Duke has 5, NC State has 2) and one women's national championship (UNC). 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 19, 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 (Duke won 24, UNC won 26, 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. The four have also won 21 ACC women's tournaments (Duke won 8, UNC won 9, 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 predominately relates to basketball, football between these programs is also competitive. As of the 2014 season, the four schools have combined to appear in 80 bowl games (Duke has 11, UNC has 31, NC State has 28, Wake has 10) and a 38–41–1 record in those games (Duke won 3, UNC won 14, NC State won 15, Wake won 6). 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), eleven ACC Tournament titles, and won or shared seven 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). In the ACC they have 22 ACC tournaments since its inception in 1987, the years not won by a Tobacco Road team are 1987, 2004, 2011, 2012, 2013. They have also won or shared 20 ACC regular season titles since 1987. UNC's 21 national titles in women's soccer are most among Division 1 schools.
Overall, the four schools have combined to win 65 NCAA Division 1 team national championship in both men's and women's sports (Wake with 8, NC State with 4, Duke has 13, and UNC has 40). They have also won at least 61 NCAA Division 1 individual nation championships in men's and women's sports (UNC has 51, Duke has 5, Wake has 4, NC State has 1). North Carolina's 40 team championships are the ninth most in Division 1 and the most in the ACC.
- Tobacco Road, a song written in 1960 by John D. Loudermilk
- U.S. Highway 15 and U.S. Highway 501 in North Carolina