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Durham’s run as the ACC baseball tournament’s home is ending. Here’s why.

Chris Pollard glad Duke Blue Devils “played ourselves back into position” to make NCAA tournament

Duke baseball coach Chris Pollard talks about the Blue Devils surge from a slow start to be in contention to make the NCAA baseball tournament. Duke beat No. 16-ranked Texas Tech on Tuesday, April 16, 2019
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Duke baseball coach Chris Pollard talks about the Blue Devils surge from a slow start to be in contention to make the NCAA baseball tournament. Duke beat No. 16-ranked Texas Tech on Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The ACC baseball tournament won’t be in Durham in 2020 — and it’s unknown when or if it will return.

That’s bad news for the Triangle and the City of Durham in particular. Last year’s tournament pumped $9.6 million into the area’s economy, according to the Durham Sports Commission.

When the ACC agreed to a four-year deal to hold its baseball tournament at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park beginning in 2015, both the league and the Bulls hoped that Durham could be the event’s permanent home just as Omaha, Nebraska, is for the College World Series.

However, a change in International League scheduling policy prevents the Durham Bulls from blocking out the dates needed for the tournament to be held at the DBAP, their home stadium.

Since the Bulls can’t guarantee they won’t be at home, the ACC can’t consider the stadium as a place to hold the 12-team tournament.

“In the past, we’ve been able to block off the dates,” Bulls general manager Mike Birling said. “The league, over past year, decided to go in a path of no longer allowing certain protected dates. At this point we just weren’t able to hold the dates. We’re obviously disappointed, but we understand. We are one of 14 teams in this league and we have to abide by what the league wants.”

In order to house the event, the Bulls have to be on the road for seven consecutive days.

But allowing teams to block out dates complicates creating the International League’s schedule so the protocol has been changed.

“We are disappointed but understand the constraints of the league regarding scheduling of regular season games,” Durham Sports Commission executive director Ashleigh Bachert said in an email to The News & Observer. “We hope that the teams and league are able to work out something in the future that would allow for us to host the ACC again.”

This month’s ACC tournament, scheduled for May 21-26, will be the ninth held at the DBAP since the Bulls entered the Class AAA International League in 1998.

The 2018 tournament drew 43,483 people for its six-day run on May 22-27. Speaking during that event, Kris Pierce, the ACC’s senior associate commissioner in charge of championships, called the DBAP a “wonderful” venue, saying “Durham has a lot of advantages” as the tournament’s home.

The ACC holds its spring meetings next week where future tournament sites in all sports could be discussed. As of now, though, the site of its baseball tournament, for 2020 and beyond, is uncertain.

Louisville housed the tournament in 2017 when the ACC took all its championship events out of North Carolina due to House Bill 2. It was held at Louisville Slugger Field, home of the International League’s Louisville Bats.

But Louisville, like Durham, is now unable to block dates and bid for the ACC tournament due to the International League’s policy change. The same goes for Charlotte’s BB&T Park, home of the Charlotte Knights.

Birling said the Bulls had hoped to share their stadium with the ACC tournament in Durham every season.

“We’ve been very happy with everything,” he said. “I still believe we are the perfect spot for it.”

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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