Central Arkansas Bears
2024 Central Arkansas Bears football team
First season1908; 116 years ago
Athletic directorBrad Teague
Head coachNathan Brown
5th season, 30–25 (.545)
StadiumEstes Stadium
(capacity: 12,000)
Field surfaceFieldTurf
LocationConway, Arkansas
NCAA divisionDivision I FCS
ConferenceUnited Athletic Conference
All-time record545–370–42 (.591)
Playoff appearances2001, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2019
Claimed national titles3
(NAIA): 1984, 1985, 1991
Conference titles28 (22 AIC, 1 GSC, 4 SLC, 1 ASUN)
RivalriesMcNeese State (rivalry)
ColorsPurple and gray[1]

The Central Arkansas Bears football program is the intercollegiate American football team for University of Central Arkansas (UCA) located in the U.S. state of Arkansas. The team competes in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) as a member of the United Athletic Conference (UAC), which started play in 2023. For the 2021 season, UCA was a de facto associate member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), and in 2022 it played in its full-time home of the ASUN Conference. Central Arkansas's first football team was fielded in 1908. The team plays its home games at the 12,000-seat Estes Stadium in Conway, Arkansas. The Bears are coached by Nathan Brown, in his seventh year.

UCA left the Southland Conference, which had been its all-sports home since 2006 and its football home since 2007, for the ASUN Conference in July 2021. At the time, the ASUN did not sponsor football, but committed to launching an FCS football league in the near future.[2] In the 2021 season, UCA competed in a football partnership between the ASUN and WAC officially branded as the "ASUN–WAC Challenge".[3] The ASUN launched its own football league in 2022, but the ASUN and WAC renewed their football partnership for that season; the two leagues shared a single automatic berth in the FCS playoffs in both seasons. After the 2022 season, the ASUN and WAC jointly announced their football-only merger,[4][5] which was officially rebranded as the United Athletic Conference in April 2023.[6]


The Central Arkansas Bears were formed in 1901 by William Hawkins. Although they finished 1-4-3 in their first season, and have an unusual record of 23-54-22 in its first 20 years of existence, the Bears would play for 7 championships in that span.

UCA would enjoy its greatest success over a 14-year period from 1979 to 1992, when the Bears won or shared 13 of the 14 conference championships, as members of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (AIC). The AIC included in-state schools such as Arkansas Tech, Harding University, Henderson State University, Ouachita Baptist, Southern Arkansas University, University of Arkansas at Monticello, and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. During that time frame, UCA won or shared twelve consecutive AIC titles from 1981 - 1992, as well as three NAIA national championships, in 1984, 1985, and 1991. The Bears were a constant presence in the NAIA Top 20, and made the playoffs 12 out of 14 seasons.

In 1993, the Bears left the AIC and the NAIA, and moved up in competition to the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference. Central Arkansas would stay in the West Division of the GSC through the 2006 season, winning the GSC title in 2005. UCA moved up yet again, in 2007, joining the Southland Conference who are a member of the NCAA Division I-AA. The Bears have since won four Southland championships in 2008, 2012, 2017 and 2019. Central Arkansas also made the playoffs in 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017 and 2019 (where they earned their first national seed in the playoffs at #8) winning their first FCS playoff game in 2011 over Tennessee Tech. The Bears also defeated Illinois State in 2016 before losing the next round at Eastern Washington.

In 2021, UCA accepted an invitation to join the ASUN Conference, ending their membership with the Southland on June 30, 2021. The first year of ASUN conference football was a partnership between the ASUN and the revived football league of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), called the ASUN–WAC Challenge. After the ASUN's first year, more new members joined, and a full slate of ASUN-only conference games was scheduled in 2022, although further conference realignment led to the ASUN and WAC renewing their alliance for that season. The alliance received an NCAA waiver that gave it an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs. The two conferences fully merged their football leagues after the 2022 season and became the United Athletic Conference (UAC), beginning in 2023.

Notable former players

Notable alumni include:


National championships

Season Coach Selectors Record Bowl
1984 Harold Horton NAIA Playoffs 10–2–1 Won NAIA Championship
1985 Harold Horton NAIA Playoffs 10–2–1 Won NAIA Championship
1991 Mike Isom NAIA Playoffs 9–2–2 Won NAIA Championship

Conference championships

Year Coach Conference Overall record Conference record
1936 Warren B. Woodson Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference 8–0 6–0
1937 8–1 4–0
1938 7–1 4–0
1940 8–1–1 3–0
1959† Frank Koon 8–0–1 5–0–1
1962 8–2 7–0
1965† Raymond Bright 7–1–1 5–1–1
1966† 5–4 4–2
1976† Ken Stephens 9–3 5–1
1978 9–2 6–0
1980 9–1 6–0
1981 8–3 6–0
1983 Harold Horton 11–1 6–0
1984 10–2–1 6–0
1985† 10–2–1 6–1
1986 9–2 7–0
1987 11–1 6–0
1988 10–1 6–0
1989† 9–1 5–1
1990 Mike Isom 8–4 6–0
1991 9–2–2 5–0–1
1992 9–2–1 6–0
2005 Clint Conque Gulf South Conference 11–3 8–1
2008 Southland Conference 10–2 6–1
2012 9–3 6–1
2017 Steve Campbell 10–2 9–0
2019 Nathan Brown 9–4 7–2
2022 Nathan Brown ASUN Conference 5–6 3–2

† Co-champions

Playoff appearances

NCAA Division I-AA/FCS

The Bears have appeared in the FCS playoffs five times with an overall record of 2–5.

Year Round Opponent Result
2011 First Round
Second Round
Tennessee Tech
W 34–14
L 14–41
2012 Second Round Georgia Southern L 16–24
2016 First Round
Second Round
Illinois State
Eastern Washington
W 31–24
L 14–31
2017 Second Round New Hampshire L 15–21
2019 Second Round Illinois State L 14–24

NCAA Division II

The Bears have appeared in the Division II playoffs two times with an overall record of 2–2.

Year Round Opponent Result
2001 First Round Catawba L 34–35
2005 First Round
Second Round
Albany State (GA)
North Alabama
W 28–20
W 52–28
L 38–41


The Bears have appeared in the NAIA playoffs 13 times with an overall record of 12–10–2. They are three time NAIA National Champions (1984, 1985, 1991), with 1984 and 1985 being Co–Champions after ending in a tie in the National Championship Game.

Year Round Opponent Result
1976 Semifinals
National Championship Game
Texas A&M-Kingsville
W 10–7
L 0–26
1978 Quarterfinals Western State L 17–22
1980 Quarterfinals Texas A&M-Commerce L 21–27
1981 Quarterfinals Cameron L 27–48
1983 Quarterfinals
Northeastern State (OK)
Mesa State
W 18–7
L 17–34
1984 Quarterfinals
National Championship Game
Moorhead State (MN)
Central Washington
W 30–6
W 44–6
T 19–19
1985 Quarterfinals
National Championship Game
Pittsburg State
Henderson State
W 32–22
W 21–9
T 10–10
1986 Quarterfinals Cameron L 34–35 4OT
1987 First Round
Northwestern Oklahoma State
W 31–7
L 7–14
1988 First Round Southeastern Oklahoma State L 14–21
1990 Quarterfinals
Northeastern State (OK)
Mesa State
W 26–14
L 9–10
1991 Quarterfinals
National Championship Game
Northeastern State (OK)
Moorhead State (MN)
Central State (OH)
W 30–14
W 38–18
W 19–16
1992 Quarterfinals
Southwestern Oklahoma State
Central State (OH)
W 14–2
L 23–30



Main article: Red Beans and Rice Bowl

The two teams have met 13 times on the football field with UCA leading the series, 7–6. Due to conference scheduling requirements, the most recent game was played in 2019.

McNeese–Central Arkansas: All-Time Record
Games played First meeting Last meeting Central Arkansas wins Central Arkansas losses Win %
13 September 17, 1994 (lost 7–21) October 12, 2019 (won 40–31) 7 6 .545

Arkansas Tech

The Bears also had a long time rivalry with Arkansas Tech University, located in Russellville, Arkansas, only 45 miles west of Conway along Interstate 40, but that series was discontinued after UCA left the Gulf South Conference, and moved up in competition to the Southland Conference.


  1. ^ UCA Standards Guide (PDF). September 28, 2021. Retrieved August 23, 2022.
  2. ^ "ASUN Conference Announces Three New Institutions; Adds Football as 20th Sport" (Press release). ASUN Conference. January 29, 2021. Archived from the original on January 29, 2021. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  3. ^ "ASUN, WAC Conferences Announce Football Partnership for 2021" (Press release). ASUN Conference. February 23, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  4. ^ "@ASUN_Football and WAC Release 2023 Schedule" (Press release). ASUN Conference. December 20, 2022. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
  5. ^ "ASUN And WAC Unveil 2023 Football Schedule" (Press release). Western Athletic Conference. December 20, 2022. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
  6. ^ "ASUN-WAC Football Partnership Formally Rebrands As The United Athletic Conference" (Press release). ASUN Conference. April 17, 2023. Retrieved April 19, 2023.