Ohio State’s chances of returning to the College Football Playoff for the third time since its inception took a hit on Tuesday, when the university announced that All-American defensive lineman Nick Bosa had withdrawn from school to prepare for the NFL draft and recover from injury.
Bosa underwent surgery in September to repair a core muscle injury he suffered in Ohio State’s win over TCU on September 15, and hasn’t played since. It was reported that he would not return to the field until November at the earliest. The junior is one of the most menacing edge rushers in the country, capable of ruining even the most experienced offensive lines. In three outings this season, he recorded four sacks and six tackles for loss, forced one fumble, and recovered another for a touchdown.
It’s hard to overstate Bosa’s impact for the no. 2 Buckeyes (7–0). Last season, he was named the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, and before his injury, he led the Buckeyes in total tackles. A healthy Bosa is projected to be a top pick in the 2019 NFL draft. An injured one would have to compete with one of the deepest defensive lineman draft classes in recent years.
Through the first three weeks of the season, the Buckeyes sat second overall in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ metric, with wins over Oregon State, Rutgers, and then-15th-ranked TCU. Last year, they were first, thanks in large part to Bosa’s contributions to the eighth-best defense in the country. Since Bosa went down, Ohio State — while still undefeated and in full control of their playoff destiny — has fallen to fifth overall, and boasts just the 41st-best defense.
In a statement released by the university, head coach Urban Meyer said he had hoped that Bosa would have been able to return to the program this fall, but supported his decision.
“I know this was an extremely difficult and emotional decision for Nick and his family, and I wish him well as he moves on to get himself 100 percent healthy and ready for his next chapter,” Meyer said. “We love Nick. The Bosa family has been awesome for Ohio State and the program. Nick is a first-class guy.”
And while Bosa’s departure may be difficult for fans of the scarlet and gray to stomach, he is not the first star Buckeye in recent memory to skip games in the interest of self-preservation. Cornerback Denzel Ward sat out the Cotton Bowl in December to minimize his risk of injury and prepare for the draft. He went fourth overall to the Cleveland Browns and is a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The list of examples grows as you zoom out from Central Ohio. Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James and Denver Broncos pass-rusher Bradley Chubb — both in the running for the same award — also skipped their respective bowl games en route to a first-round selection in this year’s draft.
Bosa’s decision takes the trend a step further. While players have traditionally sidelined themselves for meaningless bowl games — Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey were called out by players and pundits alike for missing their bowl games after the 2016 season — Bosa’s situation is unique in that he’s leaving a team firmly in the hunt for the national championship. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s this: NFL executives don’t seem to mind when players sit out. Ward, Fournette, and McCaffrey all were taken in the first eight picks of their respective drafts. Bosa’s decision to forgo the remainder of his junior year is the natural progression of a trend that’s been building steam for years. And it’s a decision that will preserve his future earning potential, not jeopardize it.
Before the 2013 season, there were rumblings that South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney would forgo his junior season to prepare for his jump to the pros. Clowney had been the consensus top pick for all of his sophomore season, and his coach, Steve Spurrier, said the young edge rusher had been advised to sit out his final year. Clowney ended up playing, but received criticism for a drop in production and a perceived lack of effort on the field. And while he was still selected first overall in the 2014 NFL draft, his example reinforced the notion that college players are expected to work in service of their university, even if it means jeopardizing their professional future.
The reward model of collegiate athletics demands that loyalty be a student-athlete’s defining characteristic. Players who sacrifice their bodies and dedicate themselves to the program are showered with love and adoration from raucous fans. But when those same players make decisions in their self-interest, they’re called selfish and childish.
Bosa’s decision to skip his final games at Ohio State will earn him his share of ire, but it should be met with perspective. He’s given three years, 17.5 sacks, and his body to Ohio State. On Tuesday, he took something for himself.