For the first time since the University of Central Arkansas has been an NCAA Division I program, the Bears will play Arkansas-Little Rock in men’s basketball.

The schools announced a five-year contract Wednesday.

The Bears and Trojans will meet once this season at UALR’s Jack Stephens Center, then twice a year in Conway and Little Rock for the next four seasons, according to a new deal struck between the two athletic departments.

"Our series with UALR will be great for basketball fans in central Arkansas,’ said Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s director of athletics. "Being able to play twice each year at both locations, which are 25 miles apart, will be very advantageous for each program on many levels.

"We appreciate (UALR) athletic director Chris Peterson and coach Steve Shields for their intention and willingness to participate in a long-term contract of Division I schools in central Arkansas. This partnership will be mutually beneficial and will provide great competition for our student-athletes and fans, competition that will be easily accessible at either location."

The Bears and Trojans last met in men’s basketball during the 2002-03 season, while UCA was still an NCAA Division II school. The teams met three consecutive years from 2000-2003, all in Little Rock, with UALR winning all three matchups. UCA leads the overall series 32-8.

"With coach Russ Pennell and our new coaching staff, we believe UCA will soon be one of the top programs in the Southland Conference,’ said Teague. "UALR is one of the top programs in the Sun Belt Conference, so this series should provide great and exciting entertainment for all.’

Pennell took over the UCA program in March and will field a completely new team in 2014-15, having retained just one player from last year’s squad. A former UCA player, Pennell is excited about facing an in-state opponent in UALR.

"We are always wanting to lift our level of play and competing against UALR will certainly test us,’ said Pennell. "I am excited to start a series with the Trojans. I have the utmost respect for coach Shields and his staff and the way they run their program.

"It should be exciting for fans and alumni to have two schools 25 miles apart going at one another. I believe it is good for college basketball in the state of Arkansas."