Over 14 years ago, Bowling Green State University 2012 graduate Craig Carswell set on a journey to watch all 363 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams play — live and in person.
On Feb. 18, he will have accomplished that feat when he travels to the District of Columbia to watch American University host Lehigh.
It was BGSU’s former house, Anderson Arena, that got Carswell started on the goal while a student in 2008. His first game on Nov. 20, the Falcons defeated Wayne State, 80-48, but it was the second game, a low scoring 58-38 win over Detroit on Dec. 14, that got him riled up for D-I college basketball.
“Growing up, my family didn’t have a whole ton of money to throw around on sports tickets,” Carswell said. “It was a big deal when we went. When we went, it was obviously in the upper deck (and I’m thinking) ‘Wow, I’m just thrilled to be here, right?’
“So, my second game at Anderson, I sat down courtside center court and I’m waiting around for the usher to be like, ‘Alright buddy, move along,’ and nobody came. So, I call it my Spike Lee moment,” Carswell continued.
“I realize, ‘Wow, this is so incredibly cool. Here is major Division I men’s basketball, right, and here I am sitting courtside, center court.’ It blew my mind. I fell in love instantly, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
As he got closer to getting his degree in sport management, Carswell took it to another level.
“My junior year I started to branch out a little bit more. Division I is so huge, right? So, I wondered what it looks like outside of Bowling Green and Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and so on, and that’s when the quest started to kick off and was formalized.”
Revisiting the Stroh
Carswell’s favorite arena during his nationwide travels is the Petersens Event Center at Pitt, but also ranking high was Anderson Arena.
He hopes BGSU will consider hosting a throwback game at Anderson Arena. He was at Princeton when that occurred, and says it was a huge success.
“We went out to Princeton and they played a one-off game at Dillon Gym, which was Princeton’s home from like 1947 to ’68,” Carswell said. “They built the Jadwin (Gymnasium) in like ’69, but never went back to Dillon Gym except on this one night around 2013 or whatever. I was there, got to sit courtside, and it was incredible because you’re in this old dusty, musty, smelly 1,500-seat gymnasium for this game.”
BGSU moved into the Stroh Center his senior year, and he didn’t want to sit in the student section because he likes center court. So, he made friends with season ticket holders Gordon and Lynne Bowman.
“The first year the Stroh was open I was wandering around the concourse because I didn’t want to go on the baseline and be sequestered over there,” Carswell said. “So, I saw a nice-looking couple who were hanging out at the center section, and I walked up to them and made it seem like, as they were looking at their tickets, that I was with them, and they are kind of looking at me like, ‘Who is this guy? What is his deal?’ I walked with them and said ‘Thank you so much. I’m a student. I think I’m one of the only students here at the game. Do you mind if I sit with you guys instead of over there on the baseline?’ They’re like, ‘Sure, OK, why not?’
He sat with the Bowmans the rest of the year.
Carswell revisited the Stroh this season for the Falcons’ 72-66 loss to Queens University of Charlotte on Nov. 29.
“I came back to see Queens because they are new to Division I this year,” Carswell said. “So, that was the first time I’ve been back to the Stroh in about 10 years or so. I went and I sat with the same couple I sat with a decade ago — Gordon Bowman and his wife. He’s a good guy.”
Over 100 arenas and counting
Carswell, now 32 years old and a civilian employed by the U.S. Air Force as a program analyst, travels to games with his wife, Jaclyn Meyer, a Wadsworth native who attended Tiffin University.
Before heading to D.C., Carswell will fly to Texas to see Abilene Christian play. Carswell, who went to Dayton Christian High School, will have been to 120 venues, including NCAA tournament games.
Once he sees all 363 teams play, Carswell said it will not stop, maybe even to the point of checking in at every arena.
It has helped that he has been to almost every Division I college tournament, where he can catch typically a dozen or so schools, depending on the league, at one venue. One week in Las Vegas, three different conferences held their league tournament at three venues along Tropicana Avenue, where Carswell and his wife saw 10 games in five days, clicking even more teams off his list.
Meyer said when they travel, it becomes about more than basketball. It’s about culture, too, she said, crediting her husband with doing the research. Top college dives include Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater, Oklahoma; Vitek’s Barbecue in Waco, Texas; and the Famous Taco in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“He is wonderful — I think he was a travel agent in a past life,” Meyer said. “It’s basketball in the evening, but on the way we’ll experience walking around the campus, experience the local food, where all the people go to eat, go to a local park or whatever it is that town has to offer.”
It is about halftime shows and student sections, too.
“When we went to see the (North Carolina) Tar Heels student section, that was a big deal,” Meyer said. “Going and seeing a basketball game there was almost like going to see a football game somewhere else because it is so big time. That student section was very interesting.”
Carswell has seen Rong Niu as the Red Panda performing her unicycle act at least eight times.
“It’s just like this bizarre, ultra-specific circus act,” Carswell said. “It’s the coolest thing ever and she plays all these college basketball halftime shows.”
‘Manos de mantequilla’
Carswell says no experience provided more enlightenment than sitting with the student section at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
“I was at the edge of the world at UT-Rio Grande Valley, basically at the southern tip of Texas and I mentioned the quest to one of the individuals at the game in the promotions department,’” Carswell said.
“She came back 10 minutes later and says, ‘Hey, there is a guy in the student section who wants to meet you.’ I go over there and end up sitting in the student section with him, and obviously UT-RGV has a really big Spanish-speaking population in the area and that goes to school.”
Many of UT-RGV’s chants and insults were in Spanish.
“There was one particular turnover where they were playing Cal State-Bakersfield and the player fumbled the ball out of bounds,” Carswell said. “The guy sitting next to me goes, ‘Manos de mantequilla,’ which is literally hands of butter, or butterfingers. I thought that was the funniest thing in the entire world.”