Nick Bosa, Kelly Bryant and a new era of player power


The day before the Ohio State entered the Happy Valley melting pot, Nick Bosa voiced his constructive frustration at having been forced out of the Penn State with an injury.

"I wish more than anything else that I could be out there with my brothers tomorrow," Bosa wrote on Twitter with a silent 18-second video that indicated a bracelet with "# 97" and "G Pop" written above.

Bosa lost that game and the next two, and at the start of this week he said that in reality this month he would lose the rest of them. The state of Ohio has announced that Bosa will retire from school and will focus on the draft of the NFL, where he is a strong contender for the first choice, according to a series of false drafts.

It is an almost unprecedented move in recent memory: a stellar college football player who chooses an early start on NFL preparation instead of spending the last few months trying to stay well in the hope of helping his undefeated team compete for a national championship.

Bosa's father told Sports Illustrated that the decision was not a game of power, just a recognition that it was not possible a complete recovery from his son's core injury on that kind of rushed chronology. Bosa could theoretically be ready for the semifinals of the College Football Playoff at the end of December, but his health and his future had priority, said John Bosa.

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"There are times for injuries," he told SI, "and then times for an elite passeurist."

But in the continuing struggle for greater player power in a sport where the NCAA and its member institutions have rigged the game and the money in their favor, Bosa is becoming clearer and the main actors, the same workforce, have more power of what I may have suspected.

Indeed, a cultural change may already be under way.

On another day, not even one so long ago, this could have been widely regarded as selfish behavior. And to be sure, if you search long enough on Twitter or listen to enough talk radio, you will find talking heads and fans who believe that Bosa has taken the path of the coward and has abandoned his aforementioned brothers.

But today, we – even football fans! – in large part knows that it is an indefensible position. Or at least we should.

There was a sudden, even sudden, change in the speech a couple of years ago, when Leonard Fournette felt the need to defend himself (he published a photo deleted from Instagram with his infant daughter, saying "just the person I owe something too much (sic) ") for deciding to skip the Citrus Bowl to rest an annoying ankle injury and focus on the NFL 2017 draft.

The early entry of Fournette and Christian McCaffrey in that draft paved the way for many other players to do the same the following year. Among them was former Bosa team-mate, former Buckeyes, Denzel Ward, who did not report any injuries but missed the Cotton Bowl simply because he did not want to risk having one.

Ohio State Star, Nick Bosa, has decided to retire from the state of Ohio to rehabilitate his wound and prepare for the NFL project, a move that has drawn broad consensus. Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports

Bosa, whose father and brother, Joey, who preceded him as a college star and then as an NFL player, had the advantage of growing up in a family where amateur mythology could at least be balanced with the reality of the business. As good as it would be to win the Big Ten and play at the Cotton Bowl, potentially being the number one choice in the draft and making millions is even more tempting – and even more likely – long-term alternative as Bosa is healthy.

It is difficult to imagine that it did not happen, for example, to Ed Oliver of Houston, the last time he fought against a triple team of offensive men in a season that will probably end up in a lower level game. Or Bryce Love of Stanford, who lost two games with injuries in a disappointing follow-up to a year in which he raced for over 2,000 meters and was the second place for Heisman. Or even the Rashan Gary of Michigan, another highly anticipated first-rounder who lost the last two games with a shoulder injury.

At this point, Oliver has nothing left to prove in college, while Love and Gary are jeopardizing their health only for the NFL teams and for the evaluators who label them as "prone to injuries" and penalize them in some places of the draft. Playing badly would most likely only hurt them.

The NFL has also shown that it can be extraordinarily forgiving of those players deemed insufficiently team-oriented: in that draft of 2017, Fournette went n. 4 to the Jacksonville Jaguars and McCaffrey went to the Carolina Panthers four times later. This year, Ward went n. 4 to Cleveland Browns.

If any of them had missed a knee like Jaylon Smith did in the last game of Notre Dame – the Fiesta Bowl – before the mark of 2016, they probably would have expected a precipitous fall in the second round, as Smith did.

Bosa certainly knew it, and he knew that the tide was a little in favor of the players. Surely it did not hurt that his coach, Urban Meyer, had not really covered himself with glory in recent months and could not raise too many stories for Bosa's exit.

Already this year, we have seen several players – with varying degrees of NFL perspectives – flex their muscles in ways that until recently would have seemed unheard of. Instead, they were largely met with a shrug.

Houston's Oliver took the unusual, if not unprecedented, step in declaring in spring that his next college season would be the last. It is not that his early departure was a surprise, it is that he was so clearly master of his own future that he did not feel obliged to consult with the technical staff.

Jalen Hurts publicly challenged Nick Saban in a way that shocked many former Saban players in the summer, stating that none of Alabama's coaching staff had talked to him in the middle of an emotional battle for the quarterback spot.

And most importantly, Kelly Bryant took advantage of a new NCAA redshirting rule and announced that she planned to leave her undefeated team, rather than sitting behind the freshman who flew over the depth table. Even two years ago, Bryant could have been ashamed of staying or being criticized for weeks. Instead, Clemson's trainer, Dabo Swinney, paid tribute and the college news cycle quickly turned into speculation about where Bryant might go.

It was shocking to see Saban, Swinney and Meyer, some of the most powerful and wealthy men in their sport (or any sport, really), unable to exert their substantial influence on their players, simple college students whose only bargaining chip is their work. These coaches were all forced, tight-lipped, to stand aside and give power to the players.

They also realize that it may just be the beginning. Meyer, who seemed to be suffering only a couple of hours after the announcement of Bosa, has recognized both the teleconference of the Big Ten coaches.

"It's just something you have to deal with and move on, just like the first entries in the draft," said Meyer. "It only happens."

At the end of the day, Bosa's name had been removed from the team's roster. That's right, he was a former Buckeye and Meyer was forced to move on.

Now even the biggest winners of the game may need to get used to losing.



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