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

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McShay understands Bosa's decision to leave OSU, focus on draft (0:33)

Todd McShay says the best thing for Nick Bosa is to focus on rehab and preparing for the NFL draft. (0:33)

The day before Ohio State entered the crucible in Happy Valley, Nick Bosa gave voice to his building frustration at being forced to sit out the game at Penn State with an injury.

"I wish more than anything that I could be out there with my brothers tomorrow," Bosa tweeted along with a silent, 18-second video of him pointing at a wristband with "#97" and "G Pop" written on it.

Bosa missed that game and the next two, and earlier this week said he was actually going to miss the rest of them this fall. Ohio State announced that Bosa would withdraw from school and focus on the NFL draft, where he's a strong contender for the first pick, according to a number of mock drafts.

It's a move almost unprecedented in recent memory: a star college football player choosing a jump-start on NFL prep instead of spending the final months trying to get healthy in the hopes of helping his undefeated team compete for a national championship.

Bosa's father told Sports Illustrated that the decision was no power play, just an acknowledgement that a full recovery from his son's core injury wasn't possible on that sort of rushed timeline. Bosa could have theoretically been ready for the semifinals of the College Football Playoff in late December, but his health and his future took priority, John Bosa said.

"There's time frames for injuries," he told SI, "and then time frames for an elite pass-rusher."

But in the ongoing fight for more player power in a sport in which the NCAA and its member institutions have rigged the game and the money in their favor, it's increasingly clear Bosa and the top players, the labor itself, have more leverage than they might have suspected.

Indeed, a culture shift might already be afoot.

In another day, not even one so long ago, this might have largely been considered me-first, selfish behavior. And to be sure, if you search long enough on Twitter or listen to enough talk radio, you'll find talking heads and fans who believe Bosa took the coward's way out and abandoned his aforementioned brothers.

But today, we -- even us die-hard football fans! -- largely know that to be an indefensible position. Or at least we should.

There has been a sharp, even sudden, change in the discourse from a couple of years ago, when Leonard Fournette felt it necessary to defend himself (he posted a since-deleted picture on Instagram with his infant daughter, saying "only person I owe something too (sic)") for deciding to skip the Citrus Bowl to rest a nagging ankle injury and focus on the 2017 NFL draft.

Fournette and Christian McCaffrey's earlier-than-usual early entry into that draft cleared the path for several more players to do the same the next year. That included Bosa's former Buckeyes teammate Denzel Ward, who had no injury but missed the Cotton Bowl simply because he didn't want to risk getting one.

Bosa, whose father and brother, Joey, preceded him as college stars and then NFL players, had the advantage of growing up in a family where the mythology of amateurism at least could be balanced against the reality of the business. As nice as it would be to win the Big Ten and play in the, uh, Cotton Bowl, potentially being the No. 1 pick in the draft and making millions is an even more appealing -- and even more likely -- alternative as long as Bosa is healthy.

It's hard to imagine that hasn't also occurred to, say, Houston's Ed Oliver, last seen fighting off a triple-team of offensive linemen in a season most likely to end in a lower-tier bowl game. Or Stanford's Bryce Love, who has missed two games with injuries in a disappointing follow-up to a year when he ran for more than 2,000 yards and was the Heisman runner-up. Or even Michigan's Rashan Gary, another expected first-rounder who has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury.

At this point, Oliver has nothing more to prove in college while Love and Gary are risking their health only for NFL teams and evaluators to label them "injury prone" and penalize them a few spots in the draft. Playing hurt would most likely only hurt them.

The NFL has also shown it can be remarkably forgiving of those players deemed insufficiently team-oriented: In that 2017 draft, Fournette went No. 4 to the Jacksonville Jaguars and McCaffrey went four picks later to the Carolina Panthers. This year, Ward went No. 4 to the Cleveland Browns.

If any of them had blown out a knee like Jaylon Smith did in Notre Dame's final game -- the Fiesta Bowl -- before the 2016 draft, they'd likely expect a precipitous fall to the second round, as Smith did.

Bosa surely knew this, and knew the tide has turned a bit in favor of the players. It also surely didn't hurt that his coach, Urban Meyer, hadn't exactly covered himself in glory in the past few months and couldn't raise too much of a fuss about Bosa's exit.

Already this year, we've seen several players -- with varying degrees of NFL prospects -- flex their muscles in ways that would have seemed unheard of until recently. Instead, they were largely met with shrugs.

Houston's Oliver took the unusual if not unprecedented step of declaring in the spring that his next season in college would be his last. It's not that his leaving early was a surprise, it's that he was so clearly in control of his own future that he didn't feel obligated to consult with the coaching staff.

Jalen Hurts publicly challenged Nick Saban in a way that shocked many of Saban's former players in the summer, asserting that no one on the Alabama coaching staff had spoken with him in the midst of an emotional battle for the quarterback spot.

And, most notably, Kelly Bryant took advantage of a new NCAA rule on redshirting and announced he planned to leave his undefeated team rather than sit behind the freshman who vaulted over him on the depth chart. Even two years ago, Bryant might've been shamed into staying or been the subject of criticism for weeks. Instead, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney paid his respects and the college football news cycle quickly turned to speculation about where Bryant might go next.

It has been jarring 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 over their players, mere college students whose only bargaining chip is their labor. These coaches were all forced, through gritted teeth, to stand aside and concede the power to the players.

They also realize it could just be the start. Meyer, sounding pained just a couple of hours after Bosa's announcement, acknowledged as much on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference.

"It's just something you've got to deal with and move forward, just like early entries in the draft," Meyer said. "It just happens."

By the end of the day, Bosa's name had been removed from the team's roster. Just like that, he was a former Buckeye and Meyer was forced to move on.

Now, even the game's biggest winners might need to get used to losing.