The Maryland and Towson series goes back to 1971, but no one knows if they will ever play again. Tillman and Maryland officials have an assortment of excuses, but the bottom line is in-state schools like Towson and UMBC treated the Maryland game as their Super Bowl, and the big brother Terps had nothing to gain even if they won.
And with 17 seniors leaving from last year's team which lost in the national championship game, Tillman knew it was the appropriate time to bail.
Tillman would never admit this publicly, and said he'd preferred to play Towson during the week, but the Tigers declined.
"I just feel like if you look at some of the best games in the country, a game like [the one involving] Syracuse and Cornell, that's a great game between top 10 teams and they always play midweek," said Tillman. "It just makes sense. You're an hour down the road, you play at night, it's still a big game. The rivalry between Loyola and Georgetown is a good one, and they play midweek. It's done."
"So I don't think it's totally out of the question to try to do that," said Tillman. "For us, our kids can go to their morning classes and still get to those games. We just couldn't find a date that worked for this year. I was certainly willing to talk. They just didn't have that flexibility."
The Terps also have been privately saying they wanted to upgrade the caliber of their opponents because strength of schedule had become so important in selecting the tournament field and seeding the teams.
What are we, bobbleheads, where we just nod in agreement with everything said?
So, Maryland thought about dropping UMBC and canceled Towson to add a super power like Hartford, which plays in the weak America East Conference (the same as UMBC)? And then they added another rising power like big, bad Marist, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
There goes that strength of schedule theory.
"It seems that when Maryland has a large senior class graduate and for them to want to drop an in-state rival and schedule a team like Marist, there's just a lot of interesting perceptions in the way you can look at that," said Towson coach Shawn Nadelen.
Former Maryland coaches Dave Cottle and Dick Edell were in similar situations, but they didn't back down. Maybe it was because Cottle was from Baltimore and Edell grew up in Dundalk.
They understood the importance of this game to the state and to Baltimore. It's not just another game, it's a way of life. On a warm, spring Saturday in Baltimore, a Maryland-UMBC or Maryland-Towson game will draw several thousand fans.
As far a recruiting, the Maryland game helped both Towson and UMBC attract players. Edell and Cottle both knew Towson and UMBC were possible "trap" games especially after playing ACC opponents, but they didn't back down. They knew it was important to the state university system.
Maryland is the state's flagship university, and almost should be forced to play the other Division I in-state institutions in big weekend games.
According to Nadelen, Tillman said the two teams might be able to play again, but it would be on a yearly basis. "They're trying to go year-to-year with us and trying to figure out what works best for them," said Nadelen. "That's something that I don't want to be a part of. I want the Maryland-Towson rivalry game to be a consistent thing. It's not going to be a year-to-year thing. If he wants to play us, then he can play us."
Tillman says he doesn't remember that conversation.
"I don't remember having that conversation," said Tillman. "What I wanted to do with [former Towson coach Tony Seaman] was move it to midweek. He was pretty adamant about moving it to a weekend. The following year, I wanted to look back at it. I just wanted more flexibility with our schedule."
"When I first got to Harvard, we tweaked the schedule, we did some things to make it work for what we wanted to do," he said. " I think you constantly have to take a look and go, 'Are we doing what's best? Are we playing the right people? Are we setting ourselves up for success?' It takes a little time to figure that out. I think for us, trying to find a date that would've worked – if we had some flexibility – that would be great."
Despite all the rhetoric, UMBC coach Don Zimmerman has said very little about the Terps decisions. That's typical Zimmerman. But before the Retrievers upset Maryland earlier this year, he used that as motivation for his team telling his players Maryland slighted them for a weekend game against Marist.
Tillman recently said he wasn't at Maryland to win a popularity contest, and he had to make difficult decisions and do what is in the best interest of his team.
But sometimes, that involves maintaining traditions and sustaining long rivalries. It's being able to meet challenges and forcing your team to step up.
In this case, the Terps didn't. Instead, they ran away from their little sisters.