Most coaches' primary gripe with mid-week games is condensed preparation, particularly if they played the previous Saturday.
Hampton coach Donovan Rose feels just the opposite, as the Pirates head to North Carolina Central for a 7:30 Thursday night game to be televised on ESPNU.
"I feel the short preparation week is in our favor," Rose said Wednesday.
Rose and the Pirates (1-4, 1-2 MEAC) have dealt with abbreviated practice and preparation all season, a result of NCAA penalties handed down because of the program's sub-standard Academic Progress Rate (APR). The APR measures graduation, player retention and progress toward a degree.
A postseason ban and scholarship reductions were the most notable penalties. The Pirates are not allowed to participate in the NCAA playoffs, and the MEAC subsequently announced that HU would not be eligible for the league title.
But other restrictions include one day a week that must be devoted to academic activities, and a reduction in the time permitted for team activities — 20 hours per week to 16 hours.
"We're able to practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and that's what we normally do," Rose said. "I think that's a plus for us. We do our same routine that we normally do."
N.C. Central (4-2, 3-0 MEAC) is tied with Bethune-Cookman atop the conference. The Eagles are second in scoring in the MEAC (32.3 ppg) and lead the league in rushing defense (118.5 ypg) and are third in total defense (319.2 ypg).
"This is a great opportunity," Rose said. "It's a team that's at the top of the conference. It's nationally televised. It's another chance to display who we are. We showed bits and pieces, we showed fragments, but we haven't put it together consistently."
Short week or not, Rose believes that the Pirates go to N.C. Central with momentum after getting their first win, last Saturday versus rival Norfolk State, and due to a change in practice time that seems to have energized the players. After early-morning practices in preseason and through the first month, Rose went back to afternoon practices, starting the bye week before the Norfolk State game.
"Practices have definitely changed and guys are flying around and having fun," Rose said.
The energy was especially evident on defense in last week's 28-14 win, when the Pirates held Norfolk State to 54 yards rushing and just 1.9 yards per carry.
"When you saw a ball carrier, there were six (and) seven guys getting there," Rose said. "We didn't see that before."
Still, there's no denying that the Pirates' development has been slowed by practice and team restrictions, given the staff changes and youth. The Pirates list 23 freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep.
"I didn't think it would take this long," Rose said.
Rose said that in recent weeks, players have begun to take it upon themselves to watch video and do extra prep work, as part of their team units. Coaches cannot require or even monitor the extra work, a condition of the restrictions.
"At one point, I was saying, I can't believe all this is going on," Rose said. "But we had to go through this. I wouldn't have written the script this way, but we went through it and I think we're better for it. What I feel good about is these young guys are going to get better. Eventually, the APR is going to get better, and we're going to have our standard (practice and team) hours.
"I think the program, the fact that we went through this, is going to show dividends. I think this is going to be a turning point in a lot of their lives. A lot of guys could have abandoned ship and gave up. But you saw last week that we didn't."
HAMPTON (1-4, 1-2 MEAC) AT N.C. CENTRAL (4-2, 3-0)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium, Durham, N.C.
THE BUZZ: Both teams have short prep weeks, coming off wins last Saturday. HU played its best defensive game vs. Norfolk State and lately has showcased 235-pound RB Jeremiah Schwartz (418 yds past 3 games), which could open up the pass game. N.C. Central has a balanced offense and a defense geared toward stopping the run.
PREDICTION: Hampton 31-27.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun