SAMOHI — If Athletic Director Norm Lacy had his way, a new league would be in his program’s future.

The problem is, not every school that would be affected by the changes sees it the way Lacy does. Instead of improving competition for all involved, some felt that the proposed changes fell along economic and racial lines.

The idea was to realign the South Bay Athletic Association (SBAA), which includes 18 teams in three leagues, based on how many teams each school fields each year, competition, geography and enrollment.

Santa Monica High School currently has 55 teams in 21 sports, which creates problems when trying to work out schedules for the Vikings’ current league, the Ocean. League rival Inglewood High School has just 17 teams and most of those are in popular sports such as basketball, football and baseball. Problems arise when Lacy is tasked with finding opponents for some of the more obscure sports, which many Ocean League schools do not offer.

“It creates problems for teams,” Lacy said. “If it is just one school, then you deal with it, but we have three like that in our league.”

Like Inglewood, fellow league teams Morningside and Hawthorne also have hard times getting teams together. This makes finding opponents for the Vikings’ girls water polo team and tennis teams a tricky proposition and even forces the SBAA to shrink to two leagues in certain less popular sports.

To tackle this and other issues, the member schools of the SBAA came together late last year intent on realigning the three leagues. Lacy wanted his program to return to the Bay League, which it had historically been a member of until the 1990s.

The Vikings, along with Ocean League rival Beverly Hills, would have joined Mira Costa, Redondo, Palos Verdes Peninsula and Palos Verdes. Luezinger, a Bay League team, would have moved to a reconstructed Pioneer League. Another Bay team, West Torrance, would have moved to the Ocean League along with Torrance, North Torrance, South Torrance, Culver City and El Segundo.

The third league, the Pioneer, would have included Ocean League teams Morningside, Hawthorne and Inglewood. Centennial, Lawndale and Luezinger would have rounded out the league.

The new alignment was agreed upon by 15 of the 18 athletic directors who attended the meeting.

That’s when perception stepped in.

The six teams that would have made up the Pioneer all come from urban areas where most of the student population is comprised of minorities. This created a feeling among some involved in the process that the decision to shake up each league was made based on economics and race.

“I just felt like it was a slap in the face,” Inglewood’s head football coach Charles Mincy said. “They put all the black and Hispanic kids in one league.

“I don’t like it,” he added. “I like playing other teams. I like having diversity … rather than have a chitlin’ circuit league.”

Lacy said that the changes were made to each league based on what he called competitive equity, with the number of teams a school fields a major factor in deciding where to put each team. But, perception became too hot for some key players to handle. He said the entire process became mired in politics once the principals of each school previewed the plan recently. With a Feb. 19 deadline looming, it began to look grim for the realignment plan.

“The perception is that you are putting the lower economic schools together,” Lacy said. “That creates problems politically.”

The movement for comprehensive change, stifled by negative feedback, began to take on a different complexion. Instead of major changes, Lacy and his fellow ADs were forced to tone down the initial proposal to make it more palatable for potentially dissenting principals.

The group of ADs has met several times recently to create four proposals to present to principals for final approval. In each plan, Samohi will be forced to stay in the Ocean League.

Lacy isn’t too happy with the situation, but realizes that sometimes perception can run rampant and trump intent. Instead of playing in a more competitive league starting in 2010, his program will have to be intent in the Ocean League.

The director of the Samohi soccer program, Serafin Rodriguez, said he would have welcomed a move to the Bay League. The boys soccer team, which he coaches, won a state title last season and would benefit from facing tougher competition.

“We do pretty well against stronger opponents,” he said. “It would have been fun to return to the Bay [League].”

daniela@smdp.com