Howard University President James E. Cheek, addressing changes of widespread abuses in the school's athletic program, acknowledged last night that the athletic department has deficiencies and needs improvement. But, Cheek contended, the program in basically sound.

In a 17-page report to the Howard community, Cheek called for a better food program for athletes and improved availability of medical assistance.

It was Cheek's first official response to nearly two years of controversy in the athletic department.

The report did not mention Athletic Director Leo Miles, the target of repeated criticism for athletes and alumni. Less than three months ago a number of Howard's student-athletes boycotted their awards banquet, demanding Mile's dismissal.

The report did say that Howard, by virtue of its 1974 national soccer championship, is the only predominatly black university to win an NCAA Division I title. But it made no mention of Lincoln Phillips, the coach who won that title. Phillips was fired by Miles last month after Phillips repeatedly criticized Miles and the athletic department.

Cheek's report was essentially the same as the findings of a task force he established 14 months ago to examine problems in the athletic program. That task force was set up in response to the allegations of several football players, who accused Head Football Coach Floyd Keith's staff of physically and verbally abusing members of the team

While agreeing that two football coaches were "in violation of implicit standards for teachers . . . and of Howard University," Cheek made no personal reprimands. He did recommend a written code of conduct for all coaches.

Cheek was said to be traveling in Egypt yesterday and was not available for comment on the report.

His report, promised since February, contained little that was not already included in the findings of the task force, which The Washington Post reported last fall.

He agreed with that panel's finding that the university allowed "a glaringly insufficient quantity of food" to athletes during their playing season. "The food plan will be modified to provide increased quantities for student-athletes participating in the meal plan," Cheek directed.

Howard's meal program for athletes came under intense scruntiny following public criticism last fall by football player Ivan Thompson, a nonscholarship athlete, who said he had to go hungry during the season.

Thompson, a starting tailback, was dismissed from the team in late October after publicly blaming Keith and Miles for his plight.

Cheek, in his report, said Thompson was "justifiably dismissed from the team."

As a result of the Thompson case, Cheek's report called for a procedure for walk-on athletes that outlines in a written mutual agreement all the terms for athletic participation, including financial aid, meal arrangements, housing, travel and equipment.

The agreement is similar to one that already exists for Howard's grant-in-aid athletes.

Concerning the charges of physical abuse of student-athletes, Cheek's report, said the incidents consisted of "a coach grabbing a player by the shoulder pads and shaking him, and a coach kicking a player. No injuries resulted in either case."

Both incidents occurred, early in the 1979 fall football season, Cheek said, and that there have been no repetitions since.

He promised a fre-evaluation of the athletic department's medical program and said funding will be sought for the hiring of a full-time certified trainer.

He said academic assistance for student-athletes will be upgraded by the dean of counseling and career development.

Cheek's report was made available to the press by Donnie Tuck, Howard's sports information director. It was addressed to the Howard community, but it is being released when few students are on campus and at the beginning of a holiday weekend, with a number of faculty members absent.