The Future of Grading: Data and Transparency

Over the last couple of months, the trading card industry has been swept up by a number of scandals related to doctored cards being graded by third party graders. The scandals have been covered in great detail by other bloggers and continues to be a hot topic on social media. Grading has become such a critical part of the hobby that there is no turning back to the days where everything was raw. Fortunately, there are still some improvements that can be made to the grading processes that can alleviate some of the concerns.

Improvement 1: Tighter tolerances on card dimensions for NQ grades.

The obvious fallout from the trimming scandal is that the current card dimension tolerances are too loose. As a community, we need to decide if we are okay with cards that were factory cut slightly short being returned at a higher frequency for the greater good. I’m okay with this tradeoff but this will be a tough pill to swallow for the collectors that end up on the wrong side of that tradeoff.

Improvement 2: Card dimensions becomes a qualifier

Authentic Altered is already a grade that can be given to authentic trimmed cards. Making a qualifier for card dimension that bridges the gap between a NQ grade and Authentic Altered would solve for the above problem while still leaving open the possibility that a card could have been trimmed. While this won’t solve the trimming problem on its own, having smaller cards receive a qualified grade would reduce the financial incentives associated with trimming.

Improvement 3: Minimize human input into final grade

“AI” is an incredibly overused term. However, some of the problems that graders face could be minimized by computer vision and other data science techniques. The most obvious example is measuring card dimensions with high precision and no risk of damage. Some of the graded cards in the recent scandal were cleaned and had an abnormal color from being bleached. These could also have been caught by a model that detected abnormal colors. Grading companies can build databases of sold listings from eBay and major auction houses to perform the same research that was done by the Blowout forums users on serial number cards or cards with unique wear patterns of substantial value.

Improvement 4: Ability to revoke authentication for graded collectibles

This improvement falls in the “right thing to do” bucket. When evidence is presented to grading companies that conflict with their opinion, the graders should have a mechanism to revoke the authentication at their discretion. The execution of this improvement is likely the most challenging of all of the ones on this list however, at a minimum, the certificate verifications could be updated along with alerts when attempting to add the collectibles to registries. While this would be costly under any implementation, it could be one of the most powerful tools in a grading company’s arsenal.

For the collectors: We’ll make it out alive.

It’s difficult to envision a future where positive changes don’t happen to the third party graders. If the incumbents are unwilling to improve their practices, new companies backed by trusted industry leaders can step in and grow rapidly. If these scandals have soured you on collecting, there’s no shame in taking a break until the issues have been resolved. Personally, I’m keeping my head up and looking forward to contributing as much as I can to the hobby I love.